Legislators raise more questions about new bridge
In a letter dated July 26, the four co-chairs of the Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee made the request to David Joyner, executive director of the N.C. Turnpike Authority.
“The chairs have concerns about the terms of the agreement for the project, the financial feasibility of the project and the financial liability the state may be incurring as the NC Turnpike Authority considers the finance plan for this project,” the letter reads.
The 18 questions in the letter include, “What would be the State’s financial obligation under the aggreement? What could the State’s financial obligation become under the agreement if the project fails?”
The letter asks the Turnpike Authority “not to proceed with the Commercial Close of the Mid-Currituck Bridge Project” until the committee can review the requested information.
A preliminary partnership agreement was signed in 2009 between the Turnpike Authority and Currituck Development Group LLC.
The group, which includes ACS Infrastructure Development Inc., Dragados USA Inc., and Lochner-MMM Group, was formed to design, build and hold a financial stake in the bridge.
The co-chairs of the committee and signators of the letter are Sen. Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick), Sen. Kathy Harrington (R-Gaston), Rep. Phillip Frye (R-Mitchell) and Rep. Grey Mills (R-Iredell).
The 7-mile-long toll bridge would span the Currituck Sound from the Aydlett community on the mainland to between Corolla Bay and Monteray Shores on the Outer Banks.
Supporters say the bridge is necessary to address summertime traffic issues on U.S. 158 and N.C. 12 and help speed hurricane evacuations.
Detractors counter it would create an explosion of development and traffic on both the mainland and along the Currituck Outer Banks.
During the recently completed General Assembly session, Rabon and other state lawmakers said the bridge and other proposed toll projects should not be legislatively mandated, and instead put on the same priority list by the NCDOT like other road projects.
A controversy arose during debate of a new state budget in June, when a letter was sent from the NCDOT to key legislators, including Sen. Stan White (D-Dare), saying “gap funding” for the proposed bridge needed to stay in the Fiscal Year 2012-13 spending plan to keep the project alive.
But NCDOT Chief Operating Officer Jim Trogdon had actually said the funding was not necessary to keep the project alive, and could be dropped from the current budget. The letter had been edited by two members of Gov. Bev Perdue’s staff without Trogdon’s final approval, and sent to legislators.
White quoted the letter on the Senate floor during debate of an amendment that would have kept the “gap funding” in the budget for the Mid-Currituck Bridge and the Garden Parkway near Charlotte.
The state had been budgeting “gap funding” to pay for preliminary work on the project until the Turnpike Authority and private partners issue bonds to borrow the money needed to pay for the bridge, estimated to be at least $650 million.
The “gap funding” could be around for decades, if some estimates are correct. At least one projection says North Carolina would have to set aside as much as $26 million a year for 40 years in the government’s annual budget to make up for possible shortfalls between toll revenues and the bond payments.
The state Senate launched an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the “gap funding” letter, and on June 28 sent their findings to the bipartisan State Ethics Commission for further review.
Money that would have gone to both projects was shifted in the final budget to the NCDOT Ferry Division operations budget to fill in for what would have come from tolls on several ferry routes that have been delayed until at least next July.
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