Cancellation of I-77 tolls could potentially cost NC millions, study says

by: Joe Bruno Updated:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The long-awaited report that could determine the future of Interstate 77 is receiving mixed reviews from the toll lane project's toughest critics.

"I am underwhelmed because it has a lot of what-ifs and not a lot of affirmatives," Michelle Ferlauto said.

The report, prepared by Mercator Advisors, provides minimal details about costs to cancel or modify the contract.

It does say, though, the state could be responsible for paying back any debt issued.

Those costs could reach $289 million.

The report also cited a 2012 poll claiming 56 percent of people support express lanes.

But Kurt Naas, with Widen I-77, points out it didn't include the question, "Given a choice between managed lanes now and some other improvement in the future, which would you prefer?"

Naas notes it is a potentially confusing question five years ago when few people understood what was being offered.

"It sounds like it was a pretty contrived question," Naas said.

But toll opponents have some reason to celebrate.

The consultant said public outrage is a potential justification for canceling the contract and all of the consistent opposition from local officials is rare.

While the toll construction likely won't stop tomorrow, opponents say they are focusing on convincing Gov. Roy Cooper and the state to end it

"The fact that we are talking about cancellation as a possibility is a positive step," Naas said.

"We are closer to acknowledgment that there are serious flaws with the contract," Ferlauto said.