Officials weigh in after I-77 contractors hit with penalty - | WBTV Charlotte

Officials weigh in after I-77 contractors hit with penalty

(Source: WBTV/File) (Source: WBTV/File)

The North Carolina Department of Transportation penalized I-77 Mobility Partners nearly $415,000 Thursday for lane closures that violated the contract in May.

A contract hauler hit an overhead sign near mile marker 32 while performing work on the project May 18, according to the NCDOT. That caused a left-lane closure around 3 a.m.

PREVIOUS: State to withhold $1.3 million over I-77 lane closure restrictions

When the NCDOT arrived at the scene on May 18, crews began work and repaired the sign around 12:30 p.m. All of the lanes were then reopened by 1:15 p.m.

The lane closures caused massive traffic backups and delayed thousands of drivers for hours. According to the NCDOT, the lane closure is not a "permitted closure" that is listed in the contract. DOT announced they will withhold liquidated damages in the amount of $412,500, calculated at the rate of $12,500 per 15-minute period of lane closure.

“I am encouraged that they are fining them. The $420,000 is great, but I think it is just the beginning,” said Michelle Ferlauto with the Lake Norman Safety Project. “I believe they establish a pattern of negligence.”

At the completion of the project, I-77 Mobility Partners will have a chance to argue for the money that was withheld. The company must prove the penalty was out of their control.

I-77 Mobility Partners was fined over $1 million earlier in 2017 for lane closures on 277 and I-77 that were not permitted.

"This is pennies for them. This is chump change for them. They frequently get fined,” said Diane Gilroy, a former professor who has studied the I-77 project. “The more fines they have against them, the more other leaders in other states will see that this is a problem.”

Gilroy admits that the fines against I-77 Mobility Partners will have little effect on the project, but it does show a pattern of what she calls "unsafe business practices."

“The taxpayers will be on the hook for 80 percent of that debt when they default. And they will default, there is no question about that," said Gilroy.

NCDOT said the penalty in Iredell was less than the penalty in Charlotte because one lane was left open in Iredell during the sign repair.

I-77 Mobility Partners did not want to comment for this story.

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