Cintra requests another extension to complete I-77 tolls in N.C.
October 18, 2019
Just as the Florida SunPass debacle has simmered down, a new toll issue has popped up. The latest toll issue involves Cintra’s I-77 toll contract in North Carolina.
Cintra, the contractor hired to build North Carolina’s Interstate 77 toll lanes, is requesting more time to complete the project. The project is to be complete by Oct. 31. That deadline is the result of several other extensions given to Cintra.
A North Carolina Department of Transportation spokesperson confirmed to Land Line that the extension has been requested. NCDOT is currently reviewing the request. The department has made no decision as of press time. There is no timetable for the decision, according to NCDOT.
If NCDOT denies the request, Cintra can face some stiff penalties. According to NCDOT, there is a “liquidated damages clause” in the contract. That clause can impose a financial penalty in certain circumstances. In this case, that penalty will be $10,000 for each day the project is not finished after the deadline. That will go into effect Nov. 1 if the request is denied.
North Carolina contract marred by controversy
The Oct. 31 deadline is long past the original deadline of Jan. 7, 2019. However, several extensions have moved the deadline by nearly 10 months.
In mid-2014, NCDOT announced that Cintra was chosen to build and manage toll lanes on I-77. The total cost of the project was estimated to be $655 million. The contract allows Cintra to control toll lanes for 50 years through 2068.
However, Cintra’s contract was met with opposition.
Historically, Cintra has had problems with toll road contracts in the United States. Its portfolio includes the Indiana Toll Road, Chicago Skyway and the SH 130 toll in Texas.
In fact, Cintra filed for bankruptcy in 2016 because of outstanding debt for the SH 130 toll road. Issues for that project were visible when NCDOT awarded Cintra the I-77 toll contract. Shortly after the bankruptcy announcement, North Carolina Secretary of Transportation Nick Tennyson indicated what happened with the SH 130 toll road should not affect the I-77 toll road contract.
In September 2014, Cintra filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Cintra more than doubled rates after acquiring the Indiana Toll Road, leading to reduced traffic. Less than a year later, Cintra and partners put the Chicago Skyway up for sale.
Just several months after the contract was awarded, Widen I-77, an anti-toll advocacy group, filed a lawsuit to block tolls from being used to widen I-77 in Charlotte.
According to the lawsuit, Cintra has faced legal trouble overseas as well. Several allegations of bribery and corruption were mentioned in the lawsuit, including one case that was still pending in Spain when the lawsuit was filed in 2015.
In June 2016, Rep. Charles Jeter, R-Huntersville, introduced House Bill 954, which directed NCDOT to terminate the agreement with Cintra. The bill also set aside a reserve account for any payment that may arise from reneging on the contract. Although the House passed the bill with an 81-27 vote, it ultimately died in the Senate.