Bill that will end I-77 toll project in North Carolina advances

By Tyson Fisher, Land Line staff writer | 6/2/2016

Three months after Gov. Pat McCrory directed the North Carolina Department of Transportation to review the Interstate 77 toll project amid controversy with the contractor, a bill that will end the controversial project with infrastructure developer Cintra has passed the state House. 

Introduced by Rep. Charles Jeter, R-Huntersville, House Bill 954 directs NCDOT to terminate the agreement with Cintra for the I-77 HOT lanes project in Mecklenburg and Iredell counties. The bill also sets aside a reserve account for any payment that may arise from reneging on the contract. 

HB954 made it through the House Transportation Committee and the Appropriations committee on Wednesday, June 1. The bill was sent to the House floor on Thursday, June 2, where it passed a second and third reading, sending it to the Senate. The House passed the bill with an 80-28 vote. 

A total of eight projects will be suspended if the bill is signed into law. After litigation stemming from the canceled agreement with Cintra or 10 years after the bill is signed, whichever comes first, any money remaining in the reserve account will go toward funding the suspended projects. Those projects include:

  • I-77/Gilead Road interchange
  • I-77/NC-73 interchange
  • Five projects to widen NC-73
  • Project widening US-21
  • US-21/Gilead Road interchange
  • Project widening NC-115
  • Hambright Road improvements
  • Lakeview Road improvements

Some of those projects are part of the I-77 toll project and will not be needed if the project is canceled.

In March, Spanish-owned Cintra filed for bankruptcy because of outstanding debt on loans for the SH 130 toll road in Texas. Shortly after, Gov. McCrory directed North Carolina Secretary of Transportation Nick Tennyson to schedule a meeting with the Texas Department of Transportation to gather information about the bankruptcy. Tennyson said the Cintra situation in Texas was irrelevant to the I-77 contract. 

“There is nothing about an independent project or an independent entity having financial trouble that affects our contract,” Tennyson told reporters at a regional summit on transportation infrastructure in March. 

Widen 77, an advocacy group against the toll project, posted the following on its website shortly after HB954 passed both committees: 

“It’s almost impossible to understate the importance of the various grassroots efforts to this success. In both committees, Transportation Secretary Nick Tennyson and NCDOT Chairman Ned Curran embarked on a Parade of Horribles about what would happen if the bill passes. These are the two biggest hammers the pro-toll forces could use, and they seemed unfettered by the truth. Curran threw out an unsubstantiated number of half a billion dollars that would be ‘taken from the people.’ Tennyson said there were only ‘alleged’ flaws in the contract, ignoring the fact that it has been amended five times in Cintra’s favor. 

“Arrayed against this were our Representatives Charles Jeter and John Bradford, who both argued passionately (and respectfully) against them.”

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