NCDOT on I-77 Business Summit Thursday, May 28, 2015

CHARLOTTE - The N,C. Department of Transportation learned indirectly this week about an I-77 Business Summit on Thursday afternoon. The department hoped to be included in this conversation as another opportunity to engage with the business community, provide accurate information, answer questions and help clarify inaccurate information that others have shared about the I-77 Express Lanes project.

Unfortunately, NCDOT and I-77 Mobility Partners received notice from one of the organizers, Mecklenburg County Commissioner Jim Puckett, that neither organization would be included in this discussion through an email that said in part:

“I am writing to respectfully ask the you nor anyone from your organization attend the I 77 summit.  This is an opportunity for me and Senator Tarte to discuss the issue with businesses in the area.  We are not going to entertain a discussion from the Widen I 77 folks nor NCDOT nor Mobility Partners.”

NCDOT hoped to share the following (Using the attached PowerPoint)

We respect and appreciate the many voices and opinions of this project. The I-77 Express Lanes project was unanimously approved and requested by the local transportation planning organization (CRTPO, formerly MUMPO). NCDOT is delivering the project that local planners developed, recommended and still support, along with the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, based upon the fact that this project will offer drivers more choices for reliable travel time, and help manage traffic on one of the state’s most congested corridors for people and freight.

Through this public-private-partnership (P3) the project will provide immediate and long-term traffic management solutions within three years. Under the agreement NCDOT is investing $95 million directly in the I-77 Express Lanes project, and an additional $145 million in other transportation projects (STI law bonus allocation funds) for a total $240 million investment in the region.

NCDOT also hoped to address the following misconceptions:

Will we have to pay tolls now to drive on I-77?

Not unless you choose to. The existing general-purpose lanes will remain on I-77, and with the new I-77 Express Lanes to help manage traffic drivers will have a number of choices: 

  • Choose to remain in free general-purpose lanes.
  • Choose to use Express Lanes for free with at least 3 people (HOV)
  • Choose to pay to use Express Lanes with fewer than three people for a more predictable travel time on a trip or portion of a trip

Can’t NCDOT just add general-purpose lanes instead?

No. If the I-77 Express Lanes project that was requested by local transportation planners was canceled, the state could not immediately build general-purpose lanes as an alternative. As required by law, a new I-77 project would have to be scored under the Strategic Mobility Formula and under the law would be subject to the corridor spending limits during a five-year period. There is no section of I-77 North that would score high enough, or fall within corridor cap limits, to be funded for construction ahead of the I-77 Express Lanes project south of Charlotte for at least the next ten years.

Is it true Cintra US will own the new lanes for the next 50 years and NCDOT will not be allowed to add any general purpose lanes?

No. The STATE owns the road and all lanes. Customer accounts will be managed through the NC Turnpike Authority. Cintra US will maintain and operate the express lanes and collect toll revenue as part of the Public Private Partnership and through which the developer will provide more than $530 million.

Should a future general-purpose project ever score high enough for construction, NCDOT could build it, but certain terms in the I-77 Express Lanes contract would provide for a process by which the developer could claim payment for proven negative revenue impact.

Currently no general-purpose lane project between Exits 28 and 36 is included in the I-77 Express Lanes project and no such project is included in the next 10 year State Transportation Improvement Program (10 year plan). A proposed general-purpose project submitted under STI did not score high enough through the Strategic Mobility Formula to move forward.

In October 2013, the MPO adopted an amendment to the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) which included a possible future widening of I-77 that had not been on the list of potential projects before. At that stage the state would either have had to allow bidders to modify their proposals to increase public funding to account for the revenue risk, or make it one of the potential compensating events as provided in the contract. With possible construction (2040) and potential environmental issues, paying additional public financing today for lanes not currently programmed would be a poor use of taxpayer dollars.

Did NCDOT Move up its financial close date?

No. Financial close has been a work in progress for nearly a year and NCDOT completed the final pieces of financial closelast week as required before a May 27th deadline. NCDOT and I-77 Mobility Partners (Cintra US) signed a final agreement in June of 2014 to construct express lanes along 26 miles of I-77 as requested by the local transportation planning organization (CRTPO). 

***NCDOT***

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