Widen I-77 attorney says toll lane battle is like 'David vs. Goliath'

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Bankrolled by hundreds of small donors, Widen I-77 attorney Matt Arnold declared himself “David” in the Court of Appeals Wednesday morning as he cast North Carolina Department of Transportation and I-77 Mobility Partners as “Goliath.”

Arnold argued NCDOT and I-77 Mobility Partners' deal to build express lanes is unconstitutional for two reasons.

Arnold said the project doesn't serve a public purpose and the private company building the lanes shouldn't have lone authority to set toll prices without a cap.

The attorney for I-77 Mobility Partners told the three-judge panel that dynamic pricing is needed to ensure cars in the toll lanes are moving at least 45 mph.

Scott Slusser, the attorney for NCDOT, argued the project serves a public purpose because it provides "a reliable travel time" for people using the toll lane.

Slusser didn't say the purpose of the project was to reduce the large amount of congestion that plagues the interstate every day.

"I think to reduce congestion is a pretty broad and undefined task," Slusser said.

Widen I-77 founder Kurt Naas said that's an important distinction.

"Nowhere in North Carolina statute does the Legislature say reliable travel time is a public purpose, that's the gist of our case," Naas said.

The three-judge panel will likely issue a ruling in May.

After the hearing, a spokesperson for I-77 Mobility Partners issued the following statement:

"We are very proud to be constructing an innovative transportation project that will help deliver traffic mobility options to motorists in the Charlotte and Lake Norman region. Progress on the construction of the I-77 Express Lanes is well under way and we are continuing to make significant progress towards project completion. We fully respect the judicial process and cannot comment further on pending litigation."

NCDOT refused to comment.