CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The organizational arm of the Charlotte Tea Party, wants Mecklenburg County legislators to consider other alternatives for widening the highway from Charlotte to Mooresville.

CAUTION understands HOT (high-occupancy toll) lanes can bring in much needed capital almost immediately, but we are very concerned about the long-term negative consequences of HOT lanes and their high cost to the public, Christian Hine, the organization s president, said in a statement.

It is accepted by proponents that HOT lanes will not reduce congestion, which should be the primary goal of any transportation policy. CAUTION fails to understand how HOT lanes could be anything other than a detriment to our economic growth and a disincentive for business investment, especially since commercial vehicles will not be allowed to use HOT lanes.

The state intends to select a private, for-profit company in August to design, build, operate and maintain the toll lanes. Four companies are competing for the $550 million project, including some already involved in area highway work.

Construction is scheduled to begin in summer 2014, with some segments opening in 2016. The lanes would be the first privately operated toll lanes in North Carolina. The contract would be for 50 years to give the winning bidder time to recoup and profit from its original investment.

The project calls for adding two toll lanes on northbound and southbound I-77 between Brookshire Freeway in Charlotte and Exit 28 in Cornelius. Cars with at least three occupants would be able to use the lanes and avoid a toll. One toll lane would continue in each direction from Exit 28 to Exit 36 (N.C. 150) in Mooresville.

The Lake Norman Regional Transportation Commission backed the use of toll lanes on I-77 in 2010. Huntersville, Cornelius, Davidson and Mooresville, the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization and Lake Norman Regional Economic Development Corp. also have backed such lanes.

State Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Matthews, has said the General Assembly approved high-occupancy toll lanes for I-77 in 2012 because it was the only way to get additional capacity to I-77 North in the next 25 years.

But the project has met resistance from a lake-area community group called Widen I-77 and a Cornelius advisory board that in early January urged the state to consider all options, not only tolls, to pay for expanding the interstate.

In March, the Mecklenburg County Republican Party also urged the state to consider alternatives. An association of businesses off Exit 25 in Huntersville also has objected to the planned tolls.

Hine, in his statement, said CAUTION is also concerned how toll lane proponents were allowed to present slides and confer with consultants during their presentations at public meetings, while opponents with alternative ideas were limited to brief statements or not allowed to speak at all.

It is unfortunate that the process is already so far along, but now that citizens are being informed, there is a groundswell of opposition, Hine said.

CAUTION stands for Common Americans United To Inspire Our Nation.

A healthy discussion of ideas is the best way to determine how to minimize congestion on I-77 for the lowest cost to the public, CAUTION S letter to Mecklenburg County legislators said.

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