Local lawmakers unveil new bill to give drivers relief from I-77 toll lanes

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A new bill filed in Raleigh on Monday would give drivers more protections in the Interstate 77 toll zone.

The bill would take control of the contract away from lawmakers and give it back to Gov. Roy Cooper.

[9 Investigates: I-77 toll lane reported issues increased by hundreds since 2015]

The lawmakers behind the new bill believe drivers are locked into a bad contract for the toll zone right now, but they think the new bill will open up relief for drivers down the road.

“The General Assembly holds both veto power over contract negotiations and the purse strings for any money that would be able to fund a better deal for I-77,” said Sen. Natasha Marcus.

With a backdrop of other anti-toll legislators and drivers behind her, Marcus said she believes the new bill would give drivers a much better deal.

Rep. Christy Clark thinks if control over the toll contract is given back to Cooper, at the very least, he could follow his I-77 advisory group’s recommendations, which include opening up a shoulder for an extra lane of traffic during rush hour, offering frequent toll users discounts and capping toll pricing.

“We are removing the roadblocks that make it difficult for Governor Cooper to negotiate contract changes,” Clark said.

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She told Channel 9 that Democrats have 55 votes to support the new bill in the House and believes they can pick up the six remaining votes that they’d need from Republicans.

Still, Cornelius Commissioner Kurt Naas worries that may not be enough.

“Unless we change the leadership in the state Senate, that’s where the roadblock is,” he said.

Other lawmakers, such as Rep. Chaz Beasley, are optimistic that the bill will have a different outcome than previous unsuccessful attempts.

He said by now many other legislators have determined the contract is a bad idea and that has helped garner bipartisan support.

Timing is in the bills’ favor. In November, Democrats penetrated the Republican supermajority that controlled the House and the Senate when toll construction began in 2015.

The toll zone is expected to open in its entirety this summer.

[ALSO READ: NCDOT responds to safety concerns in I-77 toll lane construction areas]

Despite the sense of urgency some lawmakers have in trying to pass the new bill, they admit it will take time and that the process could be slow.

The other local toll project that will get underway on I-485 soon isn't facing opposition because it is being run by NCDOT instead of an overseas company with a history of trouble.