Updated 2:21 p.m.
Opponents of toll lanes on I-77 from Charlotte to Mooresville have lost their appeal in a lawsuit that sought to halt the NCDOT project. In a ruling this morning, the NC Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's dismissal of the suit brought by the anti-toll group Widen I-77.
It was the latest in a series of legal setbacks for Widen I-77, which filed the suit in 2015. The group named both the NCDOT and its private contract, I-77 Mobility Partners. Toll opponents argued that the state's public-private partnership law - which allowed the state to hire a private company to build toll lanes - is unconstitutional.
One of the group's key arguments was that the law improperly allowed the state to give a private company the authority to set tolls, without limit. Toll-lane opponents point to a study showing that a two-way commute on all 26 miles of the road from Mooresville to Charlotte and back could cost more than $20.
A Superior Court judge had dismissed the case in February 2016, upholding the law's constitutionality. Judge W. Osmond Smith III also ruled then that canceling the contract should be up to the NCDOT or the General Assembly, not the court.
Widen I-77 leader Kurt Naas was surprised at the ruling.
"I’m confounded by the court’s decision. When the P3 (public-private partnership) statute says you can enter a P3 partnership to reduce congestion, the NCDOT says that project doesn’t reduce congestion, it doesn’t seems like it serves a public purpose. So I don’t know why the court didn’t find that," Naas told WFAE.
Naas said Widen I-77 members would be meeting soon to "figure out what next steps are."
Meanwhile, opponents are still speaking out against the toll lanes. Last Friday they held their third annual rally on the Exit 28 overpass in Cornelius, with signs like "Families Suffer; No Tolls"
The administration of Gov. Roy Cooper, who was elected last fall, has promised to re-evaluate the contract. Last month, NCDOT hired an outside firm to review the $650 million deal. The department is also asking the public for feedback on the project.
Read the NC Court of Appeals opinion in the Widen I-77 case, https://appellate.nccourts.org/opinions/?c=2&pdf=35124
Widen I-77 blog post on the ruling, http://wideni77.org/2017/05/appeals-courts-decision/