Mooresville is thirty minutes north of Charlotte, and Rock Hill (South Carolina) is thirty minutes south of Charlotte – thirty minutes that is, as Google Maps puts it, “without traffic.” And there’s the rub.
When you leave Rock Hill heading for the big city, Interstate-77 is an 8-lane boulevard. When you leave Mooresville, it’s a 4-lane bumper to bumper parking lot.
The NC Department of Transportation needed – and came up – with a solution: To get a private business to build two additional lanes and, in return, let them collect tolls on the new lanes. The idea received, at best, mixed reviews from NC commuters who would be paying the tolls.
And, then, the process took a decided turn for the worse.
At the last minute, after the contract was signed, legislators learned there was a big surprise buried in the fine print – a non-compete clause. A clause that said NCDOT cannot, for 50 years, add additional lanes to I-77 where the toll lanes run. And if they do, NC taxpayers will have to pay damages to the toll-collecting corporation.
So if we decide our side of I-77 should be as wide as SC’s side, NC taxpayers will not only pay for the road construction, there will be an additional ransom for adding those lanes.
In the meantime, nothing stops SC from adding more lanes on their side whenever they want.
There are two lessons to be learned from this: First, maybe something other than incentives is luring companies from NC to SC. And, second, when state bureaucrats sit down at the table to negotiate a contract with eagle-eyed MBAs, the taxpayers will likely be the dinner.