Will Senate take up bill to cancel I-77 tolls? And what about those ‘suspended’ projects?

120816I77commute
The morning commute on I-77 southbound in Huntersville. (David Boraks photo)

The NC House of Representatives last week approved a bill calling on NCDOT to cancel the I-77 widening project – and optional toll lanes – north of Charlotte. The bill now goes to the Senate, but it’s not clear yet whether it will get a hearing. Senate leaders have said they don’t see a need to cancel the project.

On Monday, the bill was assigned to the Transportation Committee.

I talked Friday to Sen. Jeff Tarte, who said he and project opponents – including Lake Norman business leaders with the group I-77 Business Plan – are lobbying and “educating” Senate leaders. That included a meeting with Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger (R-Eden).

Senate leaders will have to give the OK to send the bill on to committees, and eventually the full Senate. Tarte says he’s is optimistic about the bill’s chances – if it gets that far. The question is, will it? Right now, it’s a waiting game for toll opponents.

Sen. Tarte said it could be a week and a half (mid-June) before we know if it will be taken up in the Senate.

OTHER ROAD WORK WOULD BE SUSPENDED

Meanwhile, there’s an important element in the House bill that isn’t getting much attention in Facebook and social media posts: A key provision added last week that would suspend a dozen road projects in the Lake Norman area.

They include:

  • Widening NC 73, NC 115, and US 21.
  • Improvements at couple of key interchanges/intersections
  • Improvements on Hambright Road in Huntersville and Lakewood Road in north Charlotte.

These roads and projects are critical for the region to keep up with (catch up with?) growth. But funding would be frozen for up to 10 years to help pay any penalties if NCDOT cancels the I-77 project.

Just how much those penalties might be is an open question. The NCDOT has said it could cost between $82 million and $300 million pay off I-77 Mobility Partners, the private contractor that has already begun construction of the toll lanes.

Meanwhile, several people have asked me if the bill envisions an alternate widening plan for 77.

There’s no mention of how I-77 might be widened if the toll-lane plan falls through.

I-77 north of Charlotte is congested at rush hour, mainly in the stretch through Lake Norman. In 2014, NCDOT signed a 50-year contract for road widening with I-77 Mobility Partners, a subsidiary of Spain-based infrastructure giant Cintra. The project calls for toll lanes on 26-miles of the highway from Charlotte north to Exit 36 in Mooresville.

We’ll be following the bill’s progress in the Senate on WFAE-FM.

RELATED LINKS

June 2, 2016, WFAE.org, “House Approves Bill To Kill I-77 Tolls”

April 29, 2016, WFAE.org, “I-77 Toll Opponents To Appeal Lawsuit Dismissal”

April 20, 2016, WFAE.org, “Rep. Jeter Wants To Force NCDOT To Cancel I-77 Tolls; Senate Leader Disagrees”

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