North Carolina P3 in peril

Anti-tolling sentiment and loss of political support has cast doubt on the $660m Mid-Currituck Bridge P3.

A ‘shovel ready’ toll road project to be the first ever public-private partnership (PPP or P3) in North Carolina could end up on the short end of the public funding stick.

Conceived in 2008 and developed as a P3, the proposed Mid-Currituck Bridge is a 7-mile road connecting mainland North Carolina to the Outer Banks, or OBX – a 200-mile-long barrier island and vacation destination.

But a reprioritising of transportation funding in the form of newly minted House Bill 817 (HB 817) is setting the stage for tolling to get the short shrift across the ‘Tar Heel State,’ leaving Mid-Currituck out in the cold.

“The team is still evaluating the impact, if any, that HB 817 will have on the project,” a spokeswoman with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) said.

She went on to note the Federal Highway Administration (FWHA) gave Mid-Currituck the go-ahead, adding the Department is “in the process of negotiating a concession agreement” with Dragados USA. NCDOT signed a ‘predevelopment agreement’ with Dragados in 2009.

HB 817 was rolled out in the spring to let North Carolina reorder the waiting line for its $1.5 billion transportation package. To secure funding under the bill, a transportation project has to score well on a 100-point scale determined by the Department.

Governor Pat McCrory signed off on HB 817 and the North Carolina General Assembly dropped its support for Mid-Currituck. But the ultimate plight of the would-be P3 is in the care of NCDOT.

NCDOT inherited the Mid-Currituck Bridge P3 in 2010 when the North Carolina Turnpike Authority (NCTPA) – which devised the project and engaged Dragados – was merged with the Department.

Prior to combining NCDOT and the Authority, tolling had been kept under separate control from the Department. In 2012, NCDOT recommended the state legislature not fund Mid-Currituck.

Dragados has estimated Mid-Currituck would cost $660 million. Toll revenue had been forecast to reach $19 million in 2020 and $30 million by 2030.

In addition to the Mid-Currituck Bridge, HB 817 is also expected to impact the ‘Garden Parkway’ project – a 22-mile, $870 million toll road.