The North Carolina Department of Transportation is addressing concerns about the future of the Interstate 77 toll project in light of Cintra’s recent bankruptcy filing.
Cintra, a Spanish-owned infrastructure developer, announced Wednesday that it filed for bankruptcy in the Western District of Texas because of outstanding debt of loans for the SH 130 toll road.
"The governor has directed us to immediately review every available option – both legal and financial – to reassess the I-77 Mobility Partner’s business model and current contract,” said NCDOT Secretary Nick Tennyson in a press release. “Therefore, I will be going to Austin on Monday to meet with Texas DOT representatives to assess the situation. It is important to note that the current contract protects taxpayers from financial losses."
I-77 Mobility Partners, which is owned by Cintra, was awarded the public-private partnership contract in 2014. The project includes widening I-77 and adding toll lanes between Uptown Charlotte and Exit 36 in Mooresville.
Resistance to the partnership soon followed from the advocacy group called Widen I-77. In January 2015, the group filed a lawsuit to block the use of tolls. The lawsuit claimed that NCDOT provided misleading information and withheld materially adverse facts, including “Cintra’s prior bankruptcies and financial troubles.”
Mecklenburg County Superior Court denied the group’s attempt to stop the project. Construction began in November 2015.
Widen I-77 expressed approval and caution in response to NCDOT’s latest statement.
“While we are encouraged the governor is investigating the latest private toll lane failure, we are compelled to point out that, contrary to NCDOT’s statement, North Carolina taxpayers are at risk if the project defaults,” the group posted on its website.
Unlike TxDOT’s lack of financial involvement in the SH 130 project, NCDOT is investing nearly $100 million in the I-77 project.
On Jan. 4, NCDOT Inspector General Mary Morton released the findings of an investigation into I-77 Mobility Partners. The investigation began after a citizen alleged the contract was invalid for pending lawsuits and convictions against Ferrovial, parent company of Cintra. Allegations of convictions of fraud and corruption and the debarment of the Louis Berger Group were also investigated. Louis Berger Group is one of the engineering contractors for the I-77 project.
One allegation included a case of bribing the CDC Political Party in Barcelona, Spain, in order to receive more than 1 billion euros in public contracts. No indictments or convictions have been made. However, the case is still pending. This information was disclosed to NCDOT before the contract was signed.
Morton concluded that no evidence was found that would invalidate the contract.
Cintra files bankruptcy for Texas SH 130 toll road debt
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