Report: Between $82 and $300 million to cancel Cintra contract - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Report: Between $82 and $300 million to cancel Cintra contract

(Corey Schmidt | WBTV) (Corey Schmidt | WBTV)

A report compiled under the direction of the North Carolina State Auditor and released to the public late Tuesday afternoon estimates it would cost taxpayers between $82.1 and $300 million to break a contract with a Spanish firm to build and operate toll lanes on I-77.

The report was released by the North Carolina Department of Transportation late Tuesday, nearly a week after it had been sent to lawmakers and agency officials by Auditor Beth Wood.

DOCUMENT: Report from State Auditor Beth Wood’s office

Lawmakers had requested Wood compile a report on how much it would cost to break the contract. Wood’s office hired a third-party firm that specializes in public-private partnerships to handle the study.

In its report, the firm that compiled the termination costs makes clear it could not reach an exact figure because of a variety of ever-changing factors that would have to be considered at the time such a decision was made.

The contract between NCDOT and Cintra is the subject of much debate and scrutiny.

A previous On Your Side investigation highlighted questions of undisclosed corruption charges against Cintra’s Spanish parent company that appear to be omitted from required disclosure forms. The charges were first uncovered by Cornelius resident Diane Gilroy. Transportation officials refused to provide a response to Gilroy’s findings when On Your Side Investigates followed up in December—months after Gilroy first raised the issue.

At the time of our questions, NCDOT said its inspector general would release its report in Gilroy’s claims by the end of December. A spokesman for NCDOT has yet to respond to requests from On Your Side Investigates asking when the IG report will be released.

Many residents in northern Mecklenburg County and Iredell County have mounted campaigns to stop the building of the toll lanes, including voting out local politicians who supported the toll lanes and making pleas to state lawmakers for help.

Construction started on the project in late 2015. When it’s finished, drivers will have the option to pay a toll to drive on the managed lanes—which planners say will maintain a minimum speed of 45 miles per hour—or drive on the pre-existing lanes of I-77.

The recent influx of opposition to the toll lanes has prompted a new vote of the Charlotte Region Transportation Planning Organization. Members of the CRTPO had previously approved the toll project.

On Monday, members of the Charlotte City Council’s Transportation Committee voted to continue supporting the I-77 toll lanes project.

In a statement following the release of the report from the auditor’s office, NCDOT spokeswoman Jordan-Ashley Walker said it was the department was still studying the report and that it was too early to draw any final conclusions.

Upon initial review the report appears to reaffirm that, while the exact cost of cancellation cannot be calculated, it will clearly be substantial,” Walker said. “We are awaiting the decision of the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization (CRTPO) about the use of optional toll lanes on four major corridors in the metro area."

Walker did not respond to a question about why NCDOT held the report for nearly a week after it was sent by the auditor’s office.

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