CORNELIUS, N.C. -- "Who knows?"
That's how the man in charge of proposed Interstate 77 toll lanes responded to a town commissioner's question about whether tolls could max out in another 20 years at more than $40 round trip.
The NCDOT is on the verge of signing a 50 year contract which will commit an international corporation to more than a half billion dollars in construction for 26 miles of two toll lanes each way on I-77 in exchange for the ability to collect tolls on those lanes.
But no one – not the DOT and not the company, Cintra – will even give a ballpark estimate of what the tolls will cost the drivers who want to use the lanes.
If you've driven to Atlanta lately on I-85 you might have noticed the Peachpass lanes - where the DOT charges drivers to use the left lane to escape traffic congestion.
The NCDOT wants to put similar toll lanes on I-77 all the way from the Brookshire Freeway in Charlotte 26 miles north to Mooresville.
The only study made public puts the initial one-way cost during peak hours at as much as eleven bucks.
"There is no one I have spoken to that believes an eleven dollar trip is reasonable in any way," said Cornelius Town Commissioner John Bradford. "These numbers have really set off a lot of alarms and bells."
In Georgia the state runs the toll lanes.
But North Carolina plans to turn over the toll lanes' management over to Cintra, which runs toll roads all over the world.
Cornelius Commissioner Dave Gilroy asked Cintra managers if tolls could max out 20 years from now at more than 40 dollars round trip.
"Is that what the citizens are going to likely pay?" Gilroy asked.
"Likely pay? Who knows?" responded Cintra's I-77 project manager Javier Tamargo.
Letting an international corporation set the tolls does not bother Huntersville Commissioner Sarah McAuley. "No, because I think it will be at a competitive rate," McAuley said.
The NC DOT plans information sessions in September to try to win more public support as they plan to sign the final deal with Cintra in October.