Home / Features / ON THE LEVEL: Sharon Hudson: District 98 N.C. House candidate is hot, hot, HOT about high occupancy toll lanes on I-77

ON THE LEVEL: Sharon Hudson: District 98 N.C. House candidate is hot, hot, HOT about high occupancy toll lanes on I-77

SCORNELIUS – Sharon Hudson is an activist in the truest sense of the word: She is active, she says, not militant, as the term has come to connote post-’60s for many couch. . .well, people less inclined to activity.

The 55-year-old mother of three adult children is a self-described jill-of-all-trades who finds time – makes time, she says – to be politically active.

Most recently, Hudson was the last of the three candidates who filed for next week’s Republican primary for the N.C. District 98 House seat now occupied by Speaker Thom Tillis.

Because the district includes fast-growing Huntersville, Cornelius and Davidson, On the Level in recent weeks has interviewed the other two candidates, Cornelius Commissioner John Bradford and former Cornelius Mayor Lynette Rinker.

We kept those conservations focused on issues related to construction, development and real estate. We tried – tried – to do the same with Hudson.

For much of her professional life, from the mid-1980s until the turn of the millennium – she was not sure of the exact years – Hudson helped her husband, Daniel, run a trucking company, she said.

A Charlottean from her fifth-grade year, Hudson hails from West Virginia, to where she traces what she described as maverick and fighting traits: Her father was a Yeager, first cousins with test pilot Chuck “The Right Stuff,” Yeager; and her grandmother was a Hatfield, the real family that feuded with the real McCoys.

She’s a graduate of UNC Charlotte with a bachelor’s in English education. She has never been a public school teacher, though she subbed, tutored SAT-takers and taught English as a second language.

Her business experience has taken her from behind the counter at Sears during college to Cornelius-based Grainda Builders, where she is employed part time.

Politically, she has blogged; worked on campaigns, including for former Charlotte-area Republican U.S. Rep. Sue Myrick; served as a delegate to county, district and state GOP conventions; and helped found and lead two conservative groups, Lake Norman Conservatives and North Mecklenburg Republican Women.

We met in a conference room at Grainda, where she politely but doggedly seized control of the interview by handing OtL her latest flyer, about the high-occupancy toll lanes that are scheduled to be used to fund the widening Interstate 77 on the busy two-lane section north of exit 23 in Huntersville.

“It’s pretty incendiary,” she said and then backed-off. “Well, I have to be careful what I say.”

This interview has been edited for concision.

Ah. The HOT lanes. A lot of north Meck residents see that as punitive, regressive taxation, a “HOT” issue. Ha.

It’s also a development issue. Travel by car affects and is affected by growth. It’s a massive, complicated program that could be solved with a much easier solution, and less expensive.

What are those solutions? There are two things I can say in response to that. The governor just came out with a new transportation formula, and if you use that, it would rank us near the top in terms of projects, but they refuse to use the new formula.

Who are “they”? The state; the proponents of the HOT lanes. Also, if you look at the states that have HOT lanes – Texas especially – there is not enough money (being produced by tolls). The other day I read on a website that (the) state had to put $1.4 billion – billion – into the state turnpike authority.

Because the toll lanes were not generating enough money for the authority? Yes. People here are furious. The cost of tolls lanes is significantly higher than general lanes. At exit 23, you lose the (last extra) lane (going north), and it is two lanes, where the bottleneck starts, for 14 miles of interstate. Those two lanes have not been improved in the 40 years since I-77 was built. It’s the only stretch of Interstate in the state that is two lanes.

There are two lanes of I-485 at Pineville, but that’s being widened right now. Is 485 an interstate?

Interstate 485. I didn’t realize that. Pat McCrory said (the situation in north Mecklenburg) is like going through a buffet, and everybody (else) has at least gotten a snack, but we haven’t even got a snack. Let’s see, where was I?

On I-485? Ha.
I grew up in Charlotte, and this is the kind of town where developers do things and make a lot of money off it. But they’ve never widened I-77.

The developers? Or the state, the Department of Transportation. What they’re doing is, not enough people would take the HOT lanes, and what they’re telling us is that if enough people get desperate to avoid the interstate, they will be able to say, “Build the Red Line.”

You’re saying that they know the HOT Lanes won’t work to relieve congestion, and the continued congestion will jumpstart the push for the Red Line commuter train from Charlotte into north Meck? A ploy? I’m going to make a bold statement here: It is criminally negligent that they haven’t widened I-77.

OK. Well, almost criminally negligent anyway. I-77 is an evacuation route for McGuire Nuclear Station (near the southern end of Lake Norman) in case of an emergency.

Widening 77 has to do with development . . . That’s right.

. . .but maybe we should move on to some other development issues. But I just have a couple of other things to say; this is the issue that got me motivated to run. They say that cars are more efficient in fuel (consumption), so the gas tax in North Carolina – one of the highest in the country – is not raising enough revenue, so we’re desperate; that’s the justification for building the HOT lanes. If they widened 14 miles of interstate with general purpose lanes, they would increase capacity by 50 percent, and it would cost $100 million, or that’s the figure I’ve seen, but it would cost (a lot more) to build the toll lanes. Or that’s what I’ve read.

Let’s talk about. . . . Here’s another thing: The HOT lanes are for three or more people in a car. We have HOV (non-toll high-occupancy vehicle) lanes here in Charlotte, and you never see anybody – they’re almost always empty, and that’s for only two or more people. A lot of leaders have caved to the special interests on this. The processes they’ve used to present this to the public, they actually used to shove it down our throats. The two people I’m running against participated in that.

Really, please; no campaigning. Just issues. How about. . . There is a HOT lane playbook the DOT has: how to deal with people opposed to it. Their leader is Thom Tillis, he’s caved. . .

Really, we have to insist, no campaigning. Well, just Google “HOT lanes” and “campaign contributions” and you’ll see: Historically, supporters of HOT lanes get huge amounts.
Here’s a development issue that leads back to the toll lanes: The toll lanes will discourage growth in the Lake Norman area. People will stop wanting to come here. I think traffic already has hurt growth and (property) values. People go to places for values and quality of life. Now they’ll say, “Let’s go to a community near I-85 instead.” Tolls will hurt property values.

Give me a non-toll-lane-related development issue you think is key to the high-growth area you would represent. There are other issues we are going to see on the horizon that will require we have leaders that buck their own party when those issue are harmful to their constituents.

Be specific, please. Water rights. There were other towns coming into the Catawba (River) area wanting our water. Then it started raining again and that went away.

Let me pick an issue: higher single-family housing density. Developers want it, and figures show a growing segment of the market do, too. Go. Huntersville just instituted new rules that promote more density, but keep buffer rules and green space rules – that’s really good. We’re moving into a neighborhood like that in Davidson; we love it, plenty of open space to walk and even hike in. The market is really opening back up. I have (an acquaintance) with D.R. Horton, and they’re opening up a whole new section of the Farms, where I think the homes are too close together. But they’re building spec homes. Spec. We haven’t used that word around here in a long time.

Speaking of around here, what do you do for Grainda? I like to call it “special projects.” I’m only part time, usually two days a week, but last week I did four days, filling in because of vacations. They’re teaching me a little bit of everything. I worked here starting in 2005 and left, starting in model-homes sales. Now I do data-entering, empty the trash – don’t put that in – a little bit of everything.

Tell us what we need to know about Sharon Hudson. Well, let’s see. I’m not a one-issue candidate.

No comment. Ha. I support everything in the state Republican platform – probably the national one, too. I’m just your average, everyday Republican.

Who isn’t afraid to buck her own party. I have to careful about what I say.

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