July 14. By Dave Vieser. Even though the Lake Norman Marine Commission (LNMC) tabled the NCDOT’s application concerning the I-77 toll lane project earlier this week, motorists will see work continuing on top of the causeway north of Exit 28.
The operative words here are “on top,” not near or next to.
“Construction activities such as grading, erosion and sedimentation control, traffic shifts, and guardrail work, can occur atop the causeway,” explained NCDOT spokeswoman Jordan-Ashley Baker. “The boundary that defines where work can occur without permission from Duke Energy, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licensee, is actually defined by an elevation, not a distance from the lake. Therefore activity that can be seen at this time is actually outside the regulatory boundary, even though it may appear close to the lake.”
That didn’t sit well with Cornelius Commissioner Mike Miltich. “It appears, once again, that the DOT has decided to ignore its own contractual terms. There is a requirement that all necessary permits be obtained before any construction was to commence.”
Miltich said those provisions were in the contract to avoid what happened with the toll lane contract for US Highway 460 in Virginia. In that case, work began on the road in a wetlands area where the Army Corp of Engineers said permits would never be approved.
“It finally took a change in the governor to cancel that $1.4 billion contract last April,” Miltich said.
Kurt Naas, head of the anti-toll group, widenI-77.org, also expressed his frustration with the latest news. “My understanding is the Marine Commission is responsible for all matters relating to or affecting public recreation and water safety. If construction activities such as dust, or debris or drainage would affect water safety, then the Commission should have a say. But I’m not surprised that the NCDOT and Cintra would steamroll that concern as a technicality.”
Previously, work crews have shifted the traffic lanes north of Exit 28 to Exit 31, and have also been working on grading the land between the north and southbound lanes. One new lane in each direction will be added as part of the toll lane project.
In order to comply with Duke Energy’s lake control requirements, the DOT has sought comments from about a dozen entities, as well as obtaining construction permits from the US Army Corps of Engineers and NC Division of Environmental Quality.
The LNMC comments are the last step before Duke Energy can approve or in some way act on the DOT’s application.
The Marine Commission tabled the matter at their July meeting. “We’ve requested additional information and clarification from the DOT on this project,” said Executive Director Ron Shoultz. The next time the issue could come up on the commissions’ regular meeting schedule will be Monday August 8.