By Jim Fuller, Rodney Graham, Brian Jenest, and Connie Wessner
On Election Day, you may find you're offered a hand-out urging a "vote against toll lanes." Here's the problem: You can't. Toll roads aren't on the ballot. Nor can the opposition group's de facto slate of candidates make any impact on the outcome of the state's decision to pursue such a project.
In N.C. – by law – building highways is the responsibility of the state's Department of Transportation. The Secretary of NCDOT reports to the governor, who ultimately controls projects. Funding for highways is set by the legislature, not the towns.
The Town of Davidson – by law – could not re-paint a single stripe on Interstate 77, even if we were armed with a unanimous board resolution, paint brushes and a can of yellow paint.
To be sure, the condition of I-77 is an important issue. In the immediate future, we face asphyxiating congestion that could burst our burgeoning economic development efforts and decimate our home values. No business or new resident is likely to embrace the notion that it takes longer to travel to a Panthers game from here than to watch a Panthers game. And should we accept the isolation that comes with jammed lanes, we take the first step to choking off our town's vitality and quality of life.
Let us reiterate an age-old truth: No one wants to pay more for a product or service than necessary. The opposition group has seized on that truism and is working it to leverage their position. A few members of the group even go so far as to say it's just fine to do nothing for a decade while wistfully hoping billions of dollars for roads and public projects will fall like manna from the sky. Both tactics are myopic and irresponsible. I-77 requires additional capacity. We must fairly consider all reasonable funding options.
As we consider what's best for our town and region, let's remember a few facts about the current proposal that usually fall by the wayside when the noise gets loudest:
• We keep all existing, general-purpose (free) lanes.
• Each time a big truck, or an Ohio vacationer headed for the S.C. beaches, pulls into the toll lanes, there will be more space in our pre-existing free lanes.
• If we carpool so that there are 3 or more in the car, we travel free in the toll lanes.
Old-line politicians in Raleigh call this a "run-on issue." That is, candidates and supporters raise a ruckus about an issue that keeps them on their soapbox and in the media. They want attention and hope to garner some votes, but they know they really can't do anything about the issue – except run on it.
Your current town board members don’t work that way – never have. We have been to multiple public meetings about I-77; read literally hundreds of emails, position papers and research; and met with dozens of citizens. We came to the conclusion that in order to widen this vital highway now, managed lanes offered motorists choices, and thus were a fairer approach than the significant increase in the gas tax, sales tax rate and license tag fee that is being proposed by the anti-incumbent slate of candidates.
Jim Fuller, Rodney Graham, Brian Jenest and Connie Wessner serve as commissioners of Davidson. Jenest has served since 2007, Wessner since 2009 and Fuller and Graham since 2011.