ASHEBORO, NC (WBTV) - North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory defended the state's vetting of a Spanish company that has been contracted to build and operate toll lanes along I-77.
The Governor's new defense comes as a Texas subsidiary of Cintra, the Spanish company whose North Carolina subsidiary is building the I-77 toll lanes, declared bankruptcy late Wednesday.
In the wake of the news about the bankruptcy in Texas, McCrory instructed Transportation Secretary Nick Tennyson to "review options to reassess Cintra's business model and current contract."
McCrory's directive on Wednesday comes after years of NCDOT defending its deal with Cintra and, more recently, repeated assurances that the firm has a dependable track record.
In late December, an NCDOT liaison sent an email seeking to reassure Charlotte City Councilwoman Vi Lyles of the I-77 toll project ahead of a new round of voting by the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization.
In the email, Warren Cooksey, the liaison, sought to answer various points that had been brought up by anti-toll groups. One of the points questioned Cintra's business record.
"Cintra's overall track record is one of success," Cooksey wrote. Later in the email, Cooksey glossed over SH 130's reported financial troubles by saying the road remains open and available; a common talking point used by Cintra in statements from company spokesmen.
On Thursday, in response to questions from On Your Side Investigates, the Governor walked back some of his administration's praise for Cintra.
"This particular project is obviously not a success," McCrory said. "It's a separate corporation and what I need to determine is does this impact our existing project?"
McCrory reiterated the talking point about Cintra's Texas subsidiary being separate from its North Carolina subsidiary—a point first underscored by the company itself in a statement Wednesday night—again when asked why his administration hadn't vetted the company before signing the final agreement with Cintra last May.
"We have been asking those questions but you have to realize these are separate corporate entities; some of the corporate entities have been successful, others have not."
Of the four toll projects Cintra has had a hand in operating in the United States, three of them have faced financial difficulties. A Cintra subsidiary that operated the Indiana Toll Road declared bankruptcy in 2014 and was forced to sell its rights to toll the road. Another subsidiary that operated the Chicago Skyway sold its rights to collect those tolls in the face of financial difficulties. The third is SH 130, the subsidiary for which declared bankruptcy Wednesday.
The fourth US toll road operated by Cintra, the North Tarrant Expressway, opened less than two years ago in October 2014.
McCrory remained noncommittal on what, if any, impact Cintra's bankruptcy in Texas would have on the future of Cintra's contract with NCDOT.
Late Wednesday, a spokeswoman for I-77 Mobility Partners, Cintra's North Carolina subsidiary, said the company looks forward to continuing its project in North Carolina.
"Today's filing by the SH 130 Concession Company has no financial impact on I-77 Mobility Partners LLC, or the construction and operation of the I-77 Express Lanes," the company said in a statement. "While Cintra is an equity sponsor of both projects, each project maintains a separate financial structure. This matter has not impacted our construction schedule and we look forward to continuing our work here in North Carolina."