May 20. The NCDOT has completed the financial close with I-77 Mobility Partners in spite of widespread opposition to the toll lane project. Construction is slated to begin this summer.
An online poll conducted by Cornelius Today and Business Today revealed that 98 percent of respondents do not believe the NCDOT operates “with transparency, integrity and in the best interest of our citizens.” More than 325 people responded to the online survey.
The financial close means that both I-77 Mobility Partners and NCDOT have completed financing requirements necessary for the project to move forward.
“This is disappointing but not unexpected news,” said Kurt Naas, spokesman for Widen I-77, an anti-toll citizens group. “Throughout this process NCDOT has shown they are willing to do anything to push this project through.”
In a press release, the NCDOT said there has been “months of review by the Local Government Commission (that includes the State Treasurer, State Auditor, Secretary of State and Secretary of Revenue) and the Federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) Credit Council. NCDOT received approval from both and secured funding at historically low interest rates.”
The public-private partnership between NCDOT and I-77 Mobility Partners may very well be a disaster for local elected officials who stood by while the deal was finalized. In the final hours, as first reported by Business Today and Cornelius Today, Cornelius Assistant Town Manager Andrew Grant said in a memo to commissioners “it appears nobody has a clear understanding” of a key component in the 50-year contract with Cintra, a Spanish company.
A change in the contract reveals that Cintra can virtually dictate the region’s ability to undertake north-south road improvements that diminish its ability to collect tolls from what have been called “Lexus Lanes” on I-77. The contract says that new roads that relieve congestion on I-77 would result in a “Compensation Event” for Cintra.
The NCDOT says the I-77 Express Lanes Project will provide immediate and long-term traffic management solutions within three years. Under the agreement, NCDOT is investing $95 million directly in the I-77 Express Lanes project, and an additional $145 million in other transportation projects (bonus allocation funds) for a total $240 million investment in the region.
Under the terms of the contract NCDOT will collect up to three fourths of toll revenue, leaving one quarter of revenue available to Cintra for debt service. According to Widen I-77’s analysis, in order to repay the debt the toll lanes must gross more than twice the revenues of any toll lane project in U.S. history.
To view the NCDOT’s statement on the financial close, click here.