From N.C. DOT board chair Ned Curran, in response to “A toll road letter from a commissioner to the governor” (June 14 For the Record by Jim Puckett):
Mr. Puckett and area tolling opponents, including Sen. Jeff Tarte, continue to repeat misinformation while NCDOT continually offers substantive rebuttals through written communications, personal engagement and the media.
Let me offer again some facts related to calls for contract cancellation:
1) This is not our project to cancel. The I-77 Express Lanes project was requested by, unanimously approved by, and is still supported by the local planning organization (CRTPO). The state is simply delivering on that request.
2) Cancelling the contract would cost approximately $100 million in penalties, the loss of $145 million for other projects in the region, and the loss of a comprehensive traffic management solution that will be delivered within three years.
3) The proposal to cancel and “just build general-purpose lanes instead” is not possible under the Strategic Transportation Investments law, which says projects must be submitted by planning organizations, scored using the strategic mobility formula, and achieve high enough prioritization to receive funding. Local planners never submitted an alternative general-purpose lane project for scoring.
4) The request to build general-purpose lanes with bond money is also not possible because all road bond projects must have been scored under the STI law and have environmental documents secured. Again, no such project was submitted or scored and there is no general-purpose widening project with environmental documents secured. Further, the bond projects are drawn in priority order from the STI list, not politically distributed as Mr. Puckett wrongly alleges.
Just last month an I-77 summit with local businesses was convened. NCDOT offered to attend but instead of seeking public engagement in a balanced manner, Mr. Puckett told us to stay away. What a tragic missed opportunity for members of the business community to directly engage us in an effort to better understand what the project offers the local economy.
Some critics have called for 5 miles to be improved thus adding 10 lane miles (both sides of the highway) at their estimated cost of $100 million. The state will invest slightly less money and add the equivalent of 100 lane miles – that is the leveraging value of public-private partnerships.
There is no public official serving or having served during my time working on transportation issues who demonstrates a more comprehensive understanding of the benefits derived, risks of failure to act, and necessity for understanding the finite limitations under which we work than Gov. Pat McCrory. Charlotte has the transportation options it has because of his leadership as mayor. North Carolina has reformed transportation allocation in a way that responds to a future of diminishing traditional funding revenue because of his leadership as governor.
Jim Puckett led the unsuccessful effort to repeal the transit tax just prior to the opening of the Blue Line. Later he acknowledged “they are doing better than I expected.” I feel a sense of déjà vu. I trust the CRTPO and the transportation experts who have studied this project for years. The I-77 Express Lanes Project is what is best for our region.