New funding proposal for I-77 modification emerges in bill amendment

(David Whisenant | WBTV)
(David Whisenant | WBTV)

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - Representative John Ray Bradford III, a Cornelius republican, introduced an amendment to a bill Tuesday that lays out a plan to pay for modifications to the state's I-77 toll lanes contract. The amended bill unanimously passed a second reading by legislators in the North Carolina House of Representatives Tuesday.

The amendment is attached to a transportation house bill and would create a reserve amount of money to be used as a loan to cover any modification costs associated with the I-77 contract.

Bradford said the reserve amount would be collected under the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT). Credit balances from the state's Highway Fund and Highway Trust Fund would go into this account and the money would be accrued until a $300 million cap was reached.

The state would be able to borrow money from the account for 20 years with the first 10 years being paid off by toll revenues. Bradford said the payment structure could potentially be renewed for another 10 years if the modifications weren't paid off during the first 10-year cycle.

"This is really a big deal because it is really the first ironclad thing we've been able to create that has the ability to put together a funding source that does not impact other projects," said Bradford in a phone interview Tuesday night.

Lawmakers like Bradford are currently waiting to see what Governor Roy Cooper and the NCDOT decide to do with the construction project. In May, a local advisory group made the suggestion that three lanes along the road should be free while one of them could be used for tolls.

Cooper has called the I-77 contract a "bad contract" and said the DOT plans to make a decision regarding the future of the project by the end of summer.

"All I'm trying to do is sort of plan for what we think could be coming and getting the money set aside or at least starting down that journey is a very important step," said Bradford.

The Republican representative thinks the bill has received bipartisan support because the legislation wouldn't hurt any specific districts or take money away from another project.

"They realize that if this was their district and there was a funding vehicle that could help get them in a different situation and wouldn't hurt anybody and they would pay it back than why wouldn't you support it?" questioned Bradford.

He said the full transportation bill connected to his amendment will get a third reading tomorrow and will then move on to the senate. Bradford credits fellow lawmakers like representatives Bill Brawley, John Fraley, John Torbett, Chaz Beasley and others for throwing their support behind the legislation.

"It's a team effort and a 112 to 0 vote is something to be proud of," said Bradford.

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