Wednesday, 04 October 2017 07:36

Still time for public input on managed lanes

Written by  Lee Sullivan
Still time for public input on managed lanes File

Collection and analysis of pertinent details and calculations of financial data identified as relevant in the recently completed Mercator Report review of the Comprehensive Agreement governing the I-77 Express Lanes project may continue for several months, but opportunities for additional public input will still be provided before a final decision on the fate of the ongoing project is announced.

Beau Memory, executive director of the North Carolina Turnpike Authority, said this week that his organization and others, at the request of North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) Secretary Jim Trogdon, are working to gather information Trogdon needs to complete an assessment of the report’s findings.

“Mercator was tasked with looking at the particulars of this specific contract, determining options that exist for altering the contract and gathering public input,” Memory said in reference to the 49-page initial draft of the report issued in August and the 24-page addendum — including 16 pages of citizen-generated comments — released in mid-September. “And that’s what they did.

“And in addition to listing options,” he added, “they also identified the challenges that would need to be considered and addressed as part of each option. We are working now to compile information and data that will assist Secretary Trogdon in his evaluation of all the factors related to the options included in the report.”

Memory said that Mercator’s specific job was to analyze the agreement between NCDOT and I-77 Mobility Partners, the company building tolled, managed lanes beside existing lanes on I-77 between Mooresville and Charlotte. The report, he explained, was designed to provide insight and information, not deliver recommendations about a course of action.

“Mercator did not make recommendations, that was not part of their assignment,” he said, acknowledging he was aware of some media reports that depicted an apparent misinterpretation of the Mercator Report’s objectives and findings. “They did their job in reviewing the agreement and identifying options, and now we’re doing ours to get the facts related to those options in the Secretary’s hands.”

The final decision about any changes to the contract, Memory said, now rests with Trogdon, but he repeated that public meetings will be held during the evaluation period.
Memory said there is no established timeframe for Trogdon’s review, but that he expects the compilation of information to be an involved process. He added that plans for public input sessions should be announced before the end of the year.

Memory added that while the Mercator Report specifically addressed the I-77 Express Lanes, sections of the report could provide guidelines for future use on other NCDOT and Turnpike Authority projects.

“Information from the report will be considered in a wider vein,” he said, “especially findings related to the importance of finding ways to ensure more public engagement.”

Appeal denied
In another development related to the work on I-77, the latest legal challenge to the express lanes attempted by, a citizen group opposed to the project, has been dismissed by the North Carolina Supreme Court.

On Friday, Sept. 29, the state’s highest court granted a motion from I-77 Mobility Partners and NCDOT to dismiss a WidenI77 appeal that was submitted in June. The appeal to the state’s Supreme Court was filed one month after the North Carolina Court of Appeals unanimously ruled against WidenI77, upholding a prior court decision denying the group’s motion for a preliminary injunction to halt construction.

In the Court of Appeals decision, filed May 2, the three-judge panel specifically addressed four arguments WidenI77’s legal team delivered during a February hearing. On each of the issues, the Court of Appeals identified flaws in the outlined positions and affirmed the earlier court ruling granting summary judgment in favor of the NCDOT, I-77 Mobility Partners and the State of North Carolina.

When the appeal of that ruling was made, I-77 Mobility Partners filed a motion with the Supreme Court asking that WidenI77’s new petition for discretionary review be denied, citing the multiple prior court rulings that had responded directly to WidenI77’s claims. On Friday, the Supreme Court granted the I-77 Mobility Partners’ motion.

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