Driving North Carolina's First Transportation P3 to Financial Close
A critical business artery in one of the fastest growing states in the U.S., North Carolina's I-77 through the Charlotte area was in dire need of expansion and repair. Commuters and travelers faced massive gridlock in a region that had become the 25th most congested in the nation.
In a groundbreaking project that will spell major relief for drivers and help facilitate growth in the area, we helped the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) reach financial close on the I-77 Express Lanes. The Project is an approximately $591 million upgrade which is set to add 26 miles of tolled, express lanes alongside existing general purpose lanes of the I-77 corridor.
Working together, NCDOT, Nossaman and NCDOT's financial and technical consultants devised an innovative contract. The agreement provided immediate and long-term traffic management solutions within three years of the start of construction – avoiding piecemeal improvements that would have taken 20 years using traditional funding. Under the agreement, a Cintra-led consortium will design, build, toll, operate and maintain the express lanes for 50 years after construction, assuming risk if toll revenues do not meet projections. Project financing includes $100 million in Private Activity Bonds (PABs) and a $189 million Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan. In addition, the developer will invest $248 million in equity and NCDOT will contribute $95 million to the project.
To boost the project's creditworthiness and ease its financing, the contract included a unique clause giving lenders contingent protection if the developer is unable to meet its debt obligations because of insufficient revenues. Under the provision known as the Developer Ratio Adjustment Mechanism (DRAM), NCDOT would make payments to the developer under certain conditions to cover the shortfall, depending on the debt service ratio. This "safety net" for lenders, which lasts until maturity of the TIFIA loan, was a key factor behind the project's investment-grade ratings.
The project, which opened in fall of 2019, is expected to help pave the way for future P3 transportation projects in North Carolina and across the U.S.
- This was the first highway public-private partnership (P3) in North Carolina.