ANALYSIS: I-95 tolls would cost $30 billion to pay $16 billion tab

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 2/23/2012

If Interstate 95 were to be rebuilt and converted to a toll road in North Carolina, taxpayers would be paying nearly double the estimated cost of the project and ongoing maintenance. Don’t believe us? Those figures are in the state DOT’s report on the I-95 corridor.

Before we get into the numbers, we should explain a bit about what has transpired. We wrote a story earlier this week about the feds granting preliminary authority to North Carolina to pursue a tolling project on I-95. The NCDOT took exception to OOIDA Director of Legislative Affairs Ryan Bowley’s comment that “there’s no commitment to using existing revenue to improve the corridor without tolls.”

A spokeswoman for NCDOT wanted us to check out a document that spells out the project and explains how the state’s funding formula has only been able to generate 10 percent of the estimated $4.4 billion cost of the reconstruction project.

The documentation says a lot, but in its own way, it underscores some of the points Bowley has made in regards to project cost and the additional tax burden being placed on highway users.

According to documents provided by the state, tolls would last for 40 years and bring in approximately $30 billion. That is nearly double the combined $4.4 billion in reconstruction costs plus the $10 billion to $12 billion in ongoing lifecycle maintenance of the roadway.

Paying double is yet another reason why truckers oppose this scenario. Reconstructing the highway would be fine if it were affordable and did not require an expensive new toll tax.

OOIDA is encouraging members to attend the seventh and final public hearing on the I-95 corridor study – the $4.4 billion reconstruction, widening and modernizing project proposed from the Virginia state line to the South Carolina state line.

The hearing is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 27, from 4 to 7 p.m., at the Double Tree by Hilton, 1965 Cedar Creek Road, Fayetteville, NC 28334.

If you can’t make it, you can voice your opinion by email to or via the printable online comment form.

Make sure the planners know how an expensive new tax would affect your businesses and personal lives. For a small-business trucker feeding a family, a suggested $100 toll for a full-length trip could be devastating, especially when multiplied by the number of trips.

According to figures provided by the North Carolina DOT, the proposed toll would last 40 years from 2019 through 2059. That would pay for the $4.4 billion reconstruction project plus ongoing maintenance costs estimated between $10.3 billion and $12 billion.

Toll rates would be increased each year to keep up with inflation, roughly 2.5 percent per year over the life of the project.

In NCDOT’s own words: “During that period, it is estimated that tolls would generate nearly $30 billion.”

By their own math, $30 billion minus expenses leaves $12.2 billion. If that is the case, then why would toll rates be so high? It stands to reason that they could cut the toll rate substantially and still meet expenses. Or how about no toll at all?

North Carolina collects 38.9 cents per gallon in taxes for diesel fuel, but according to current laws and formulas, NCDOT must distribute that money a certain way. That leaves a small amount for any individual roadway or project.

Even if they wanted to set aside more money to improve I-95, the DOT could come up with only about 10 percent of the $4.4 billion reconstruction cost, a spokeswoman told Land Line earlier this week.

“We’ve been very clear about how we don’t have the money. We just can’t do it,” spokeswoman Greer Beaty said.

It sounds like a broken formula, and a broken record as far as a number of state DOTs are concerned. We try to understand the logic, but it’s difficult considering the interstates were built from the 1950s through the 1980s and very few states have put aside any money to fix them.

A system is broken if it hinders or prevents important infrastructure work from getting done.

North Carolina’s fuel tax rate is among the highest in the nation and yet they’re broke at the same time because the rules require the money to be spread thin.

Bowley says the points he made earlier in the week underscore his line of reasoning regarding diversion of dollars in a broken system.

“A lot of states simply refuse to have these discussions,” OOIDA Director of Legislative Affairs Ryan Bowley said.

NCDOT wanted us to see the numbers, and we have. And any way it shakes out, tolls are going to cost billions more than the project is worth. Someone’s going to get rich off of this project, and it’s not going to be the truckers.

“Even if you include the bonding and interest costs for the project, you still have a large gap totaling billions between the money spent and the money they will take in,” Bowley said. “There’s no denying their numbers on that.”

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