Business

Why businesses and their customers should care about tolls

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OPINION: A letter from Vince Winegardner

WINEGARDNER

WINEGARDNER

In early 2012, I had heard about plans to widen I-77 with revenue derived from tolls.  I was not terribly worried about that at the time.  I was like most people and thought toll roads where the 50 cent variety used to cover maintenance and subsidize the construction costs.  I thought the tolls would be retired at some point in the distant future.   Seemed like a fair way to get the added capacity sooner.  The initial numbers for adding this capacity were around $50 million – not much for eight miles of pavement.

Then I met Kurt Naas.  Kurt was on the Cornelius Transportation Planning Board and is an engineer, business owner, and distinguished MBA graduate of the Kellogg School of Management.  He is a smart guy who was very involved with regional transportation planning.  He was very knowledgeable about the toll road proposal and saw a lot of problems with the plan being promoted by the regional planning organization and the State.  He told the Cornelius Town Board about his concerns but was not comfortable with their response.  He felt his concerns needed to be shared and wrote a compelling article about the toll plan and invited citizens to learn more about this “Imminent Calamity”.   I was one of those citizens to answer his call and have been working ever since to educate our community and leaders as to how the approach to privatize lanes on the I-77 corridor will damage our Lake Norman and Charlotte communities.

Like most people in our community, I made choices to live here based on reasonable assumptions.  I bought my home in Davidson thinking it would continue to appreciate in value and offer my wife and me an asset that we could sell someday.  We also opened our business in Huntersville with similar expectations.  I invested my time in our community to make it better and serve my neighbors.  Among other things, I became the President of the Northcross Master Association.   In that role, I have been representing the interests of about 70 business properties bisected by I-77 at exit 25.  We have five hotels, two apartment complexes, two grocery stores, medical offices, hundreds of thousands of square feet of commercial and retail space, plus numerous restaurants.   It is my job to preserve the value of this business environment and ensure it is accessible to our residents, employees, and customers.

The privatized toll road planned for I-77 will threaten that accessibility through an insidious increase in congestion.  That situation will occur throughout Lake Norman.  That is not my opinion. That is the formal analysis of the NC DOT and the Bond markets funding the I77 toll project.  As the NMA President, I must react to that threat.  Our entire Lake Norman business community must react to this threat!

The other, and maybe more significant, damage that is likely to occur is the reduction in our economic competitiveness as a region.   David Hartgen, a professor emeritus at UNC-Charlotte, says tolls on I-77 will likely limit development and retail growth.  His comments reflect common sense on this matter and point to a likely decline in growth and economic development in Lake Norman.  That affects property values.  A reduction in property values affects a wide range of things that are important to all of us.

So what can be done to prevent this situation from progressing as it appears it will?  Our business community must stand united against this privatized toll road plan.  Our elected leaders must fight for our businesses and citizens and …because that has had poor success to date, we must assist Kurt Naas and his WidenI77 group in doing what can be done in court to stop this “Imminent Calamity”.  Visit WidenI77.org to donate to the legal fund and contact your town and State elected leaders to encourage them to protect our future by stopping the privatized toll lanes on I-77.

Time is short. Act now.

Winegardner, a retired Air Force officer, is involved in three business entities:  Family Healthcare of Lake Norman;  Northcross Medical Properties; and Corporate Healthcare. He is also president of the Northcross Master Association and treasurer of WidenI77.

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