NCDOT has hired an outside firm to review its $650 million contract to build toll lanes on I-77 north of Charlotte. At the same time, DOT also is asking the public for feedback on the project.
The DOT will pay Mercator Advisors $100,000 to scrutinize the contract with Spanish construction giant Cintra, which was signed in 2014.
The state's new transportation secretary, Jim Trogdon, promised the review in a meeting last month with local officials at the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization, or CRTPO.
“Secretary Trogdon is keeping that pledge by having this company take another look at it and do an in-depth review of the contract. Probably later this summer we expect to see a final report,” she said.
Thompson said the DOT also is asking for public comments on the project. Those can submitted through the DOT's I-77 Express Lanes website.
The DOT says it chose Mercator over six other firms because of its independence and experience. (Others were PFM, BDO, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Ernst & Young, Deloitte and Macquarie.) Mercator advises transportation officials on financing big construction projects and hasn't been involved in the I-77 contract.
But the company has worked with Cintra in the past. Thompson said it was on a toll project in Texas.
“That was within the past 10 to 12 years and the only involvement that they did have on that particular project was regarding the federal loan application, a very small part of the project,” she said.
Still, opponents of the toll lanes are uncomfortable with the choice. Kurt Naas leads the anti-toll group Widen I-77, which has sued NCDOT to stop the toll lanes.
“They are in the business of advising public-private partnerships like the ones that are on the I-77 toll lanes,” Naas said. “And what we were hoping for was not an advocate of this type of business model, but a skeptic. We think that's who should be reviewing this.”
It's not clear what will happen if the review finds problems with the contract. The DOT's Thompson said it's too early to say without knowing what the review finds.
Meanwhile, NCDOT also is in the midst of another review - taking a look at complaints about a high number of wrecks in the I-77 work zone. A report could come this week.
I-77 Express Lanes website for feedback. Click on the yellow "Let Us Know" button. https://www.ncdot.gov/projects/I-77ExpressLanes/