NC House votes to cancel I-77 toll lane contract

NC House votes to cancel I-77 toll lane contract

RALEIGH, N.C. (WBTV/AP) - The North Carolina House has voted to cancel an agreement with a private developer to build toll lanes along Interstate 77 north of Charlotte.

The House voted Thursday afternoon and passed the second and third reading of House Bill 954. The bill will now go to the North Carolina Senate.

Mecklenburg Representatives Charles Jeter and John R. Bradford, III are primary sponsors of the bill.

"I did exactly what I said I was going to do," Jeter said.  "I believe this is an inherently flawed contract for a lot of reasons.  It's bad for my district and I'm real pleased not only with the support but with the overwhelming support of my colleagues in the House chamber, both Republicans and Democrats who agreed with me that this was a bad contract and needs to be canceled."

Representative Paul Stam of Wake County opposed the bill, saying that in his district where North Carolina's only toll road is already operating, it's been a good deal for drivers.

"To the extent that it's complaining about toll roads, I think it's misplaced because toll roads, and the only place where it exists in North Carolina it has been very well accepted," Stam said.  "The people who don't like it just ride on it and the people who do like it, they tend to save money every time they get on it, save time, save wear and tear on their cars."

Stam acknowledged that he was not familiar with the situation on I-77, but said that he was speaking generally about his experience with 540 in Wake County.

WEB EXTRA: Click here to read House Bill 954

HB954 was one of two filed in the NC House in late April with the aim of canceling the contract, which was executed in May 2015.  The second bill was filed by Democrat Tricia Cotham of Matthews.

The difference in the two legislative proposals came 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.

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

The House Transportation and Appropriations committees voted Wednesday to move to chamber floor the proposal to pull out of a 50-year contract the state has signed with Cintra.

Both committees accepted the bill "without prejudice," as opposed to favorably. "Without prejudice" is a seldom-used procedural action that often reflects the lack of strong support for a measure.

The panels acted despite warnings from Transportation Secretary Nick Tennyson that canceling the contract could cost millions of dollars in penalty fees and would leave the area without any clear traffic solutions.

Leaders in Cabarrus County have expressed some concern over HB954 in that, along with stopping the toll road project, it would also suspend several other projects, including widening projects along Highway 73.

Other suspended projects would include the  I-77/Gilead Road Interchange, the I-77/Highway 21 interchange, the I-77/NC-73 Interchange, the project for widening US-21 and NC-115, and improvements to Hambright Road and Lakeview Road.

Copyright 2016 WBTV. All rights reserved.