NC House of Representatives to consider dueling proposals to stop I-77 tolls

NC House of Representatives to consider dueling proposals to stop I-77 tolls

RALEIGH, NC (WBTV) - Two bills have been filed in the North Carolina House of Representatives that would cancel NCDOT's contract with the Spanish company Cintra to build the I-77 toll lanes.

The contract was executed in May 2015.

Both bills have been introduced by representatives from Mecklenburg County: Republican Charles Jeter of Huntersville and Democrat Tricia Cotham of Matthews. The difference in the two legislative proposals comes down to money.

Under the contract between Cintra and NCDOT, the state will have to pay a cancellation fee to break the contract. In late December, a report commissioned by the North Carolina Auditor estimated the cost of cancelling the contract to be between $82 million and $300 million to cancel the contract.

Opponents of the toll lanes have criticized the report's $300 million ceiling as being too high.

Jeter's bill does not specify where money to pay the cancellation fee--of any amount--would come from. Cotham's bill requires the money to come from NCDOT's budget.

"We both have the same end goal to cancel the toll project," Cotham said of her's and Jeter's bills. "I just believe in legislation I have to be very specific and detail oriented because when we are not specific and have some vagueness other things can be inserted or misinterpreted."

Jeter said, ultimately, bills change as they move through the legislative process so just because certain language is included in the original version of a bill, doesn't mean that language will be included in the legislation that is signed by the governor.

"I certainly understand Representative Cotham's point and I understand her concern," Jeter said. "You saw where her bill went and mine, where mine's gone and I think we'll push forward with House Bill 954 and get it passed."

Jeter said he anticipated using money currently appropriated to the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization--roughly $152 million--to cover the costs of cancelling the contract. If the breakup fee exceeded that, Jeter said, he would want that money to come from state funds.

As Jeter filed his bill Tuesday, the liberal group Progress North Carolina sent a press release accusing Jeter of having voted for the I-77 tolls in 2013.

Jeter said the claim is misleading because that vote was on a bill that addressed the state's toll lane strategy as a whole and did not have a specific impact on the I-77 project.

"Had that bill passed or not passed (in 2013), it would've had no impact on I-77 tolls and if they're being honest with themselves they know that," Jeter said. "The bill that authorized I-77 was House Bill 1077 in 2012 when I was a member of the Huntersville town board."

But even if a bill to cancel the contract clears the House, there's no guarantee that it will be taken up in the Senate.

At his pre-session press conference last week, Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger, the chamber's top Republican, said he did not see a reason to cancel the contract with the information he had currently.

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