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GOP Budget Language Affects I-77 Tolls, Light Rail Projects

Workers installed beams in late April for a new bridge over I-77 near LaSalle Street near uptown Charlotte.
I-77 Mobility Partners

Two state transportation policy changes — affecting light rail projects and the I-77 toll lanes — could become law as part of the state budget that passed the legislature Friday.  

One would require light rail projects to get commitments of federal funds before they can be considered for state money. That could make it harder for projects like a light rail line from Chapel Hill to Durham or several lines proposed in Charlotte to get federal funds. The federal government usually requires a state commitment first.

The other change would keep the NCDOT from spending any money to revise or cancel the current I-77 toll lane contract without legislative approval. It also requires NCDOT to give the legislature 60 days notice of any changes.

A private contractor is adding optional toll lanes on I-77 between Charlotte and Mooresville. They're scheduled to open by the end of the year. The project has brought opposition, and the department of transportation recently held a series of meetings with leaders in the Lake Norman area to look at changing or terminating the contract.

Republican legislative leaders drew up the budget in a way that kept Democrats from offering any amendments. Democratic state Rep. Chaz Beasley of Huntersville said Friday that Democrats haven't been able to figure out where the new policy language came from.

"We have not been able to nail anything down as to who put it in," he said.  "I think this is pretty short-sighted. It shouldn't have been in the budget."

The budget now goes to Democratic Governor Roy Cooper for his signature.

David Boraks is a veteran journalist who covers climate change for WFAE. See more at www.wfae.org/climate-news. He also has covered housing and homelessness, energy and the environment, transportation and business.