6/19/2018North Carolina Legislature Votes To Undo Toll Road Deal
North Carolina General Assembly to give governor authority and funding to cancel the transfer of toll lanes to a Spanish company.
A controversial deal to sell a portion of Interstate 77 in North Carolina to a Spanish company could soon unravel. The state House and Senate each approved legislation Friday giving Governor Roy Cooper (D) the authority needed to back out of the fifty-year high occupancy toll (HOT) lane contract with Cintra of Spain.
The Senate-passed measure allocates up to $620 million to pay for any contract termination penalties, as long as the governor acts before October 15. The cash will come from previously scheduled transportation projects in Mecklenburg and Iredell County. The House preferred a different approach that would set aside $300 million out of transportation surpluses. Opponents of the tolling deal, including Widen I-77 were pleased with the end result, if not the method used for the state to buy its way out of the deal.
"So, it appears locals will be paying for a mistake made in Raleigh," the group's website explained. "This, too, can be mitigated by the amount allocated, and things can change in ten to twenty years. This is not worth falling on our sword, as the important thing is to get the contract cancelled."
In 2014, the state Department of Transportation signed the contract with Cintra to toll 26 miles of the freeway through Mecklenburg and Iredell Counties. The deal gives Cintra the largest share of the profit from the tolls collected through the year 2064, even though the public is paying the vast majority of the $655 million construction cost, including $289 million in federal and $95 million in state funds. The lanes are scheduled to open at the end of the year.
As is typical with such contracts, a non-compete clause forces the state to pay Cintra if it ever wishes to improve untolled lanes near the toll route. The clause is designed to prevent expansion of capacity near the road that might reduce congestion and draw away toll-paying customers.
The contract buy-out provision passed as an amendment to a broader transportation bill that has been sent to a conference committee. A handful of members will work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation -- including the tolling buy-out -- and report back a final measure that will receive an up-or-down vote in both chambers before being sent to the governor for his signature.
A copy of the amendment that passed the Senate on Thursday is available in a 2.3mb PDF file at the source link below.