Packed house at meeting as anti-toll supporters discuss petition against I-77 project

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Before Thursday night's Widen I-77 meeting even began, there was a large crowd of people packed into the Chris Mack Citizen Center in Mooresville. Many were left to stand in the back of the room to hear the latest information regarding the public push against toll lane construction.

Kurt Naas, a Cornelius Town Commissioner and founder of the Widen I-77 group, spoke to the crowd for a half hour regarding the project.

In recent months project advisers have suggested options to improve or cancel the state contract to build the toll lanes.

Naas suggested to those at Thursday's meeting that they support one of two options if they are unhappy with the current state of the project – "complete and delete" or "complete and modify".

"Complete and delete is let's complete the project and terminate the contract and delete the tolling equipment. Complete and modify is let's complete the project, terminate the contract, and let's keep part of it as publicly operated toll lanes," explained Naas.

Both of the options would cost the state millions of dollars, but members of the public seemed to have a favorite.

Mooresville resident Neal Howes said he was in favor of the "complete and delete" option. Howes brought a 20-year-old newspaper to Thursday's meeting to display an old article talking about the dangers of I-77.

"I've been in this area since 1975. It just hasn't changed. Its bumper car and demolition derby," said Howes.

10-year-old Lilah Peters might have been the youngest member of the crowd at Thursday's meeting. She asked Naas how she could continue to protest the toll lane construction.

"I think we should just completely get rid of this project and it's not fair," said Peters.

Naas encouraged the crowd to contact state lawmakers and let them know which option they support when it comes to moving forward with toll lane construction. He also highlighted the importance of electing local leaders who will stand with the group and oppose the project.

"The one thing that we have, the advantage that won't go away, is sustained public opposition and I think we saw that tonight," said Naas.

A representative from I-77 Mobility Partners sent WBTV the following statement regarding the meeting held Thursday:

"I-77 Mobility Partners remains focused on construction progress and preparing to open the express lanes in late 2018.  We are committed to being a good partner with NCDOT, and this public-private partnership allows the construction of the lanes and infrastructure improvements to advance significantly sooner. Starting later this year motorists in our region will benefit from having another option for traveling between Uptown Charlotte and Mooresville."

The toll lane construction is scheduled to be complete at the end of 2018.

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