North Carolina group files lawsuit to block I-77 toll lanes

By David Tanner, Land Line senior editor | 1/20/2015

An advocacy group in North Carolina has filed a lawsuit to block tolls from being used to widen Interstate 77 in Charlotte.

The group, Widen I-77, filed suit in Superior Court in Mecklenburg County, N.C., seeking declaratory judgment and injunctive relief against the North Carolina Department of Transportation and I-77 Mobility Partners LLC.

NCDOT and I-77 Mobility Partners – a company run by Cintra of Spain – signed a public-private partnership last year to widen I-77 between Exit 11 at the Brookshire Freeway and North Carolina Route 150 at Exit 36.

The 50-year concession agreement calls for the conversion of one existing carpool lane in each direction into a high-occupancy toll lane, or HOT lane, and for an additional toll lane to be added in each direction. Tolls would be collected electronically, and the existing general purpose lanes would remain toll-free.

The cost of the project is estimated at $655 million, using $88 million in state funds, $234 million in private capital from Cintra, $215 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation in the form of a loan, and $100 million in tax-exempt private activity bonds.

Widen I-77 takes issue with state and federal dollars being used to build a toll road, and claims that the North Carolina General Assembly acted outside of its constitutional obligation when it granted NCDOT with the power to enter a partnership with a private company to build a toll road against the will of the people.

“The General Assembly’s delegation of authority to NCDOT to enter into contracts with private parties granting the right of way to public highways in order to construct and operate toll roads and granting unlimited revenue potential is injurious to the public and against the public will,” Widen I-77 plaintiffs stated in the lawsuit filed Tuesday, Jan. 20.

The group also makes claims against the conversion of a designed commuter lane to a high-occupancy toll lane.

If and when the new toll lanes are completed, they will not be made available to commercial trucks, meaning those trucks would remain in the general purpose lanes no matter how congested I-77 becomes.

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