Raleigh – Republican legislators know they’re going to lose their seats this November because of their inaction on the I-77 toll mess and are flailing desperately to get ahead of the coming voter backlash. Unfortunately for these legislators, they’ve already made their bed.
Today, DOT Secretary Trogdon announced recommendations to deal with the I-77 toll mess. While canceling the project is still the ultimate goal, in the short-term Secretary Trogdon recommended common sense measures to help drivers including toll caps, frequent user discounts, turning certain toll lanes into general purpose lanes and hardening the shoulders for drivers to use without being tolled.
The reason? In part, the state’s hands were tied by Republicans legislators. The Republican budget included language that clearly stated if DOT seeks to change or cancel the contract, that decision is “subject to an express appropriation by the General Assembly.”
That put Republican legislators on the hook – and put them on the wrong side of their constituents, who called the budget language a “horrendous” move that will continue to “bleed the taxpayer.” The most outspoken critics of the original I-77 deal were quick to point out that the GOP legislature is getting in the way of fixing the contract. From the Charlotte Observer, “Are NC legislators making it harder to change I-77 contract?”:
Opponents of the Interstate 77 toll-lane project have been optimistic the N.C. Department of Transportation wants to help them, either by buying out the master developer, Cintra, or paying the Spanish firm to alter the contract.
But those opponents are worried that state legislators are getting in the way.
Cornelius Commissioner Kurt Naas, who has led a multi-year fight against the toll lanes, said the DOT has argued in court that it can cancel or modify the contract on its own. The budget bill changes that, he said.
“This makes it harder to do the right thing,” he said.
Who voted for the GOP budget bill? Sen. Tarte and every Republican legislator now crying foul. Unfortunately for Sen. Tarte and other Republicans, they can’t hide from their votes for a bad budget that put themselves right in the middle of this mess.
“Jeff Tarte and Republicans in the legislature continue to stand in the way of the state fixing this I-77 toll road mess,” NCDP Executive Director Kimberly Reynolds said. “Republicans made their bed when they voted for a bad budget that included language tying the state’s hands. Now they must lie in it.”