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Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce holds forum on widening I-77

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CORNELIUS -- The debate continues about how to widen the congested stretch of I-77, north of Charlotte.

People on both sides of the issue met for a question and answer session at the Lake Norman Chamber of Commerce on Friday.

The Lake Norman Regional Transportation Commission backs the NCDOT's proposal which would widen I-77 from the Brookshire Freeway in Charlotte to Mooresville, using "High Occupancy Toll Lanes," or 'HOT Lanes.'

Officials say a private company would build and operate the lanes on a 50-year contract.

"It takes the available capacity and maintains it for the life of the facility. If you were to use just general purpose lanes, those general purpose lanes fill up, and then it's just gridlock from then on out," said Commission Executive Director Bill Thunberg.

A growing citizen's action group says toll lanes are the wrong move.

"It's going to cost a lot more than the general purpose solution,” said group spokesperson Kurt Naas. “We think it ensures congestion in the general purpose lanes, rather than solve it, and it limits us as far as what we're able to do to make improvements on I-77 in the future.”

While the project has yet to be approved, the Department of Transportation will submit their final plan in the coming weeks.

The majority of residents in Friday's meeting said they want to send planners back to the drawing board.

"I have not met anybody who is for these managed lanes, other than the few people who are proposing them," said Mary Lou Richardson of Huntersville.

"We're both trying to accomplish the same thing. Obviously, we have different ways to go about that," said Naas.

The state has said it hopes to pick a private partner this summer.

If given the final go-ahead, construction could begin in 2014.

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