North Carolina selects Cintra for I-77 'HOT lanes'

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | Monday, June 30, 2014

A Spanish company that runs the Indiana Toll Road has been chosen to build and manage a public-private partnership along Interstate 77 in Charlotte, N.C.

The North Carolina Department of Transportation selected Cintra to build and manage 26 miles of high-occupancy toll lanes, known as HOT lanes, in both directions of I-77 from the I-277 interchange to N.C. Route 150.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $655 million. Cintra announced it will begin construction in early 2015 and the new lanes will open to traffic in mid-2018. Construction will take place in three phases of 2.2 miles, 14.9 miles and 8.8 miles.

According to the contract, Cintra will control the lanes and collect the tolls for 50 years through the year 2068.

Cintra’s estimated $14 billion toll road portfolio in the U.S. includes the Indiana Toll Road, Chicago Skyway, North Tarrant Express in Dallas and a failing SH 130 that connects Austin and San Antonio in Texas.

In June, Moody’s Investor Service predicted that Cintra and SH 130 partner Zachry American Infrastructure could soon default on its debt payments unless they could restructure their obligations with the banks. Moody’s has downgraded the SH 130 company’s bond rating twice since April 2013.

Traffic on the SH 130 has not lived up to projections despite an increased speed limit, and many truckers choose to stay in traffic on I-35 rather than pay a $29 toll to bypass Austin.

In 2006, Cintra paid $3.85 billion to control the Indiana Toll Road alongside Australian partner Macquarie. The contract with Indiana allowed the private consortium to more than double the toll rates on truckers within five years and prevents the state DOT from fixing up nearby toll-free roadways that compete with the Indiana Toll Road for traffic. The contract also authorizes future toll rates to be indexed to inflation through the end of the 75-year contract in 2081.

Cintra and Macquarie’s 2005 lease of the Chicago Skyway is on the books to last even longer, 99 years, through 2104.

Cintra is a subsidiary of Ferrovial, a Spanish company with 65,000 employees worldwide that operates London’s Heathrow Airport and other infrastructure assets.

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