The commissioners on Monday called an emergency meeting to vote on a resolution expressing their dismay with Travis’s decision to travel to Raleigh on June 8 to tell lawmakers he supports the state’s controversial contract with a Spanish company to construct toll lanes on Interstate 77.
Travis and Davidson Mayor John Woods had scheduled the meeting with North Carolina Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, who represents District 26, which includes Rockingham County and part of Guilford County. Berger had invited five other senators to the meeting.
After the Tuesday night’s commissioners’ meeting, which lasted less than 15 minutes, Travis said he doesn’t regret the Raleigh meeting, at which he provided senators with a report that he and Woods wrote after visiting a similar project in Texas.
“I did the right thing,” he said, adding that he was surprised by the board’s reaction and that, in hindsight, he should have informed them of his plans.
The Board of Commissioners opposes the toll roads, and supports a bill passed June 2 by the North Carolina House of Representatives that would cancel the state’s $650 million contract with Spanish developer Cintra Infraestructuras’ subsidiary I-77 Mobility Partners. The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Transportation, where it has sat since June. 3.
The contract for a public-private partnership on the project was signed last year and construction has begun on converting an existing high-occupancy vehicle lane to a toll lane and building a second toll lane from Charlotte to Mooresville.
The terms of the 50-year contract, which include a penalty should the state construct an additional free lane, are what concern many residents, businesses and politicians who live in northern Mecklenburg County and southern Iredell County. They are also concerned that the company has sought to restructure its debt through bankruptcy on toll projects in Indiana and Texas.
Travis said that there are legitimate concerns and unknowns about the contract, including the length of the term, the unknown toll rates that will be vary depending upon demand, and potential complications arising from lanes that enter and exit the toll lanes.
“I understand that (opponents) are mad,” Travis said after the meeting. “I understand that they’re frustrated. People have the right to have their opinions.”
But, he said, “to cancel a contract now without having a plan is a losing proposition.”
Travis said that businesses that were considering locating in Cornelius have expressed hesitation given the uncertainty over the construction of the toll roads – and the alternative if the contract is canceled: continued hindrance to efficient transportation.
Supporters of the toll lanes say it provides a solution to the daily highway congestion in three years instead of 20, and for about 20 percent of the direct cost to taxpayers.
The state Department of Transportation has said that canceling the contract could cost the state up to $300 million in penalties.
Should the contract be canceled, Travis said in a written statement, Cornelius would stand to lose $120 million that has been approved for other road improvement projects on West Catawba Avenue, U.S. Highway 21, N.C. Highway 115 and Northcross Road as part of an allocation associated with the contract. Travis said the town has grown from 3,000 residents to 28,500 in the last 25 years, and is expected to continue growing at a rapid pace.
After the meeting, Commissioner Jim Duke said that he respects Travis, but that he thinks the decision to meet with senators to express his opinion on the toll lanes “could have been handled better.”
“You have to listen to the people who put you in office,” he said, adding that he believes the majority of the town’s residents oppose the toll lanes.
Before the meeting, Commissioner Michael Miltich said, “I have no trouble letting him have his own personal opinion, but when you’re representing the town and the town has taken a stand, it’s only proper that he represents the town.”