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NCDOT Announces Winning HOT Lane Bidder…Drivers Lose

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HOT lanes, in real life.

HOT lanes, in real life.

Despite significant public opposition to the proposed construction of High Occupancy Toll lanes (HOT lanes) in Northern Mecklenburg and Southern Iredell Counties, the Department of Transportation announced today that it has accepted a bid for the project from Cintra Infrastructures.

From the NCDOT Release:

The N.C. Department of Transportation announces the apparent successful bidder for its first Public-Private-Partnership (P3) contract to improve the traffic flow along 26 miles of I-77 in the Charlotte area, one of the most congested roadways in the state.

P3 contracts are an innovative way of leveraging new funding sources to lessen the financial impact to the state and help complete projects sooner through investments by a private firm.  Following a required bidding process, and pending final review, it appears Cintra Infraestructures, S.A. will construct the I-77 project through a joint venture with F.A. Southeast, W.C. English, and the lead design firm of The Louis Berger Group.

Cintra, a world-wide leader in managed lanes projects, estimates the total project cost at $655 million. Cintra will  invest the majority of that in return for toll revenue generated from the managed lanes. NCDOT will contribute $88 million for the project, which is significantly less than the $170 million it had projected.

The agreement is expected to be signed in June, with construction beginning as early as this December. The project is expected to be complete in 2018.

“We are excited to take this significant step forward and address a critical need,” said NCDOT Chief Engineer Mike Holder. “Innovative funding solutions like this one are vital to keep up with growth and infrastructure needed to strengthen the economy despite declining transportation revenue from traditional sources.”

The price of the overall project has seemingly already risen by $100 million, to $655 from the original estimated $555 million.  It will come as no surprise when this number continues to rise.

So called “managed lanes” involve giving public money to private, for profit, companies to build lanes that only those willing to pay to drive on have the opportunity to do so, while ensuring congestion in the remaining general purpose lanes.

Across the country, they don’t exactly have a stellar track record.

According to news reports, Virginia’s new HOT lanes on Washington, D.C.’s Beltway lost $11.3 million in their first six weeks, Houston’s I-45 and U.S. 59 express lanes haven’t covered their costs, and Atlanta’s I-85 tolls fell short of the lowest fiscal forecasts. The most egregious offender may be SR-167 in metro Seattle, whose actual earnings fall consistently and astonishingly below revenue expectations.

Now, North Carolina can be added to the list.  Only time will tell how much money the taxpayers will be on the hook for….for a project that won’t benefit the transportation environment in Char-Meck.

We’ll continue to research this and get a look at the final contract.  We’re sure it will be a frightening read.

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