Expanding Interstate 77 and canceling the private contract to build toll lanes would cost $800 million—including a $300 million cancellation fee, according to figures disclosed in a letter from North Carolina’s state transportation department to lawmakers. The figure, if accurate, is higher than the $650 million budget to build the 26-mile toll lanes project by private contractor I-77 Mobility Partners.
Nick Tennyson, N.C. transportation secretary, sent a letter late last week to the chairs of the state Senate’s transportation committee as part of a campaign to stop a bill that would end the toll lane construction contract with I-77 Mobility Partners. The N.C. House passed the bill by a vote of 81-27 this month. That sent the measure on to the Senate, where two committees would have to approve the bill going to the floor for a final vote.
The General Assembly is considering the toll-lanes on I-77 as part of its short session this year. Lawmakers are expected to complete their work within a couple of weeks. The agreement in place now with Cintra/I-77 Mobility Partners includes $94 million of state funding.
Tennyson, in his letter to the chairs, outlines many concerns regarding the bill. Among the numerous problems cited, one major issue is the cancellation of the contract but not the expanded lanes project, ballooning costs to $800 million: $300 million as estimated by a state consultant to buy out the I-77 Mobility Partners’ contract plus $500 million to build the lanes without a public-private financing model. Passing the bill would also set a precedent for overriding the state roads program.
Tennyson and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory are among those who support moving ahead with the privately built and managed toll lanes.
However, opponents argue the toll lanes will do little to relieve congestion and are poorly designed. Backers point to state and regional representatives approving public-private partnerships and toll lanes as a transportation strategy for years leading up to the agreement reached between Cintra and the state in 2014. In addition, they have pledged to make some changes to the alignment of entrances and exits—and consider other modifications—as construction continues.