Back in early March, H267 - NCGA Prior Approval/Interstate Tolling - was submitted and promptly sent to the House Transportation Committee.
Upon its submission, those opposing the I77 HOT lanes project were initially encouraged that this may be an effort to find a way off the toll road track by allowing the General Assembly a way save face and put a stop to these efforts at double taxation (gas taxes as well as tolls) for driving on some of our roads. Hopes were even higher when House Transportation Committee Chairman, Rep. Bill Brawley (R-Meck) of Matthews, signed onto the bill. (See here and here for earlier posts on this story.)
However, that encouragement and those hopes were short-lived.
Rep. Brawley argued in this Charlotte Observer article soon after the bill was filed that "the General Assembly approved high-occupancy toll lanes for Interstate 77 in 2012 'because it was the only way to get additional capacity to I-77 North in the next 25 years'" - reiterating the pro-toll position heard from many of the project's supporters and also implying that this bill would not pertain to I77.
aShortChronicle received this response from one of the bills original sponsors, John Torbett (R-Gaston) regarding if I77 would be covered by this bill.
"I feel I-77 has already been determined and changing it would be a step backward. This bill should take effect on any new thoughts relative to tolling additional Interstates"
The exact action in 2012 which specifically authorizes tolls on I-77 has not been identified to date. That does not mean one does not exist, but it also does not clearly mean that H267 would not apply if it was passed in time to impact the I77 tolling project. In 2012, the NCGA did provide the authority for a pilot Public Private Partnership tolling project with H1077 - the definition of a project that would fit the I77 HOT lanes. However, that session law does not specifically mention I77.
If the HOT lane supporters are intending to use H1077 as the reason H267 would not apply to the project, that would seem to splitting some pretty fine legal hairs. Here's why.
If the intent of H267 is to require a vote before implementing tolls on a specific highway only when the planning for the project starts after a certain date, there is no date in H267 which would exempt I77 in the proposed bill. Also, if the intent of H267 is to require a vote on each and every specific highway toll project if it touches existing lanes then it would apply to I77 as written because the I77 toll project uses at least a portion of an exiting lane slated to be converted to tolling. That would be the existing HOV section of the road. Finally, in the event H267 was passed as worded, to insulate the I77 project from any legal challenge for not having an additional vote on it, the prudent thing to do would be include language to specifically exclude I77 from being covered by the bill.
However, all of that is irrelevant if H267 just languishes in committee and never sees the light of day. Unfortunately, that appears to be what is happening.
Since H267 was introduced in early March and sent to the House Transportation Committee, there have been no less than 7 scheduled meeting of the committee on these dates - March 19, March 26, April 2, April 9, April 16, April 23, and April 30. The five most recent meetings all considered bills introduced after H267, including the highly complex H817 which covers Governor McCrory's proposed new plans for State transportation expenditures. That highly complex bill was considered and passed through the House Transportation Committee mere days after the Governor announced the sweeping changes to how transportation money is spent in this state.
So, why has H267 languished? Why can't a very simple bill that asks for an up or down vote by the Legislature on toll projects even get through committee? One has to wonder why it has not been given the green light?
Certainly, toll road supporters know why.
Update: The day after this post, H267 started to move - being scheduled for the May 7th House Transportation Committee meeting. See Logjam breaks for H267!!! Where will it go?