CORNELIUS, N.C. (WBTV) - Friday marks the first day the I-77 toll lane project is officially past its contract deadline.
People along the highway are wondering when they will no longer see machinery and traffic cones. Now, each day the project runs over deadline, they are also wondering how the contracted company Cintra will cover fines from the North Carolina Department of Transportation.
“Because this is a for-profit venture, they’re going to charge as much as they possibly can,” Cornelius Town Commissioner Kurt Naas says. “Ultimately, these fines are going to be passed onto the consumer.”
Naas says he feels certain, once the project is done, toll prices will be higher than they would have been.
Starting Friday, Cintra will now pay $10,000 in fines for each portion of its contract not completed, per day. With three portions not complete now, that is $30,000 for each day it takes to finish.
“You’re a business,” Naas says. “If a cost increases in one place, you’re going to try to pass those costs on in another, and this is going to be as high of toll revenues as they can charge.”
In a statement, I-77 Mobility Partners, an arm of parent company Cintra, told WBTV that it is making every effort to work with NCDOT to uphold agreements.
“Pricing for the express lanes is unrelated to any adjustments in project scope,” a group spokesperson told WBTV. “The minimum and maximum toll rates per segment will be adjusted periodically in accordance with the contract and North Carolina law."
Senator Natasha Marcus says the company can charge whatever it would like, for the next 50 years.
“There’s no cap,” she says. “And that’s why so many of us are concerned.”
She adds that under the contract, toll prices can change every minute, depending on the current congestion of the area.
“If they choose to charge more to customers, they’re going to have to find where that breaking point is, and find out if people are willing to pay a higher toll or not,” Marcus says. “But that’s always been in the mix.”
The plan has been for Cintra to set a low toll price as it opens new lanes, which is what drivers see in those that are open now. However, the company can raise those prices, later on.