Following on the heals of the NC Senate bill to stop any potential toll plans on I-95, the NC House filed a bill on Thursday that could stop actual plans for tolls on any interstate highway. Bi-partisan H267 filed by two Republicans and two Democrats would require an NCGA vote of approval before implementing tolls on any "existing" road.
Questions are out to the Bill's sponsors as to whether this bill would impact the decision to toll I-77 via High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes. A simple straight forward reading of the bill, would indicated that it should since the existing HOV lanes will be converted to HOT as part of the project. However, since the I-77 HOT project is a combination of HOV conversion and new construction, that opens the door for interpretation.
If those who support the HOT project are willing to engage in Bill Clintonesque splitting of linguistic hairs, they could try to say the HOT facility is new and not existing. The inclusion and exact meaning of the word "existing" in this bill is important.
A second important point with this bill is the last statement which is common to most bills in the Legislature..."This act is effective when it becomes law."
When it comes to giant government construction efforts, the I-77 HOT Lanes project is on the fast track. The plan is to select a concessionaire and get the contract underway this year. If H267 is not equally fast tracked, it will not become law before a contract may be signed - making it irrelevant to such a contract.
If those who support the HOT project are willing to play the standard political game of "run out the clock", they will stall this bill just long enough to not impact this project.
To be very clear, if the Legislature was able to pass complex and controversial bills on Medicaid expansion and unemployment insurance in a matter of weeks, they could most certainly pass a simple bill that requires a vote on a simple subject such as tolls. Not doing so will be very, very intentional.
Keep an eye on this one. It will be interesting to see where it goes.
Update: Looks like the Legislators are going the route of splitting those very fine political hairs. See here.