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DOT says final milestone reached in I-77 contract

Some members of Charlotte’s regional transportation planning organization on Wednesday criticized how the N.C. Department of Transportation handled a contract to build toll lanes on Interstate 77, but they took no vote on the project.

The meeting of the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization was a chance for some elected officials to vent to the DOT.

But their concerns were too late. Earlier Wednesday, the DOT signed the final paperwork with the private developer, I-77 Mobility Partners, to build the project. Construction is scheduled to begin this summer.

Iredell commissioner Ken Robertson blasted the noncompete clause in the contract, which would hinder any plans to add new free lanes to I-77 for the life of the contract, which is 50 years.

“Almost every governmental body has passed a resolution that says, ‘Hold on, something isn’t right,’” Robertson said. “This is an agreement for 50 years. I don’t know anyone who does leases for 50 years, mortgages for 50 years.”

Nick Tennyson of the N.C. DOT said Wednesday that the noncompete clause doesn’t mean the state can’t add new lanes, but it might have to provide financial compensation if new free lanes are built.

Robertson criticized that response, saying that the state still has the ability to build new lanes is “like saying I have the freedom to be quarterback of the Panthers.”

The state said if it backed out of the contract it would have to pay at least $45 million in compensation to I-77 Mobility Partners, and possibly up to $100 million in damages.

The DOT also said the Charlotte area would lose $145 million in so-called “bonus allocation” funds that have been available to the region because of the toll project.

Brian Jenest, a Davidson commissioner, said he is worried about the project.

“I wish I felt better,” he said. “There just seems to be so many questions. We have so much at stake and this is the first (toll lane) project we are doing.”

The governing boards of Davidson, Huntersville, Cornelius, Mooresville and Mecklenburg and Iredell counties have recently passed resolutions either questioning the project or asking for a delay.

The city of Charlotte has chosen not to debate the issue or pass a resolution about the project.

Mecklenburg Commissioner Dumont Clarke said the planning organization should move forward with the project.

He said conservative politicians have asked for private businesses to take over some of the traditional roles of government with the belief that they can do a job faster and cheaper. He said the toll lane project is a perfect example of that idea put into place.

Harrison: 704-358-5160

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