Tolls sought for I-95 in North Carolina

| 11/10/2003

The North Carolina Department of Transportation will seek federal permission to charge tolls on I-95 to pay for the highway’s $3 billion overhaul, according to local media.

The Joint Legislative Transportation Committee last month agreed to authorize the highway department to seek the change on the interstate from the Federal Highway Administration.

A report prepared by a consultant hired by NCDOT said the state could pay for the upgrade by charging drivers $18 to travel the entire 182 miles the highway wends through eastern North Carolina, Durham’s WTVD TV reported.

The plan calls for constructing six toll booths about 30 miles apart, and collecting $3 at each booth. The tolls would raise enough funds over 30 years to widen I-95 to eight lanes.

Supporters said the plan would hit out-of-state drivers hardest while letting many locals make short trips for free, The Fayetteville Observer reported. Opponents said the tolls would discourage tourism and breed more toll booths north and south of the state border.

NCDOT wants to transform I-95 from a mostly four-lane highway into an eight-lane freeway with higher bridges, wider shoulders and longer ramps. But dipping into available highway funds would delay other projects, said Calvin Leggett, manager of the department’s program development branch.

If the state’s application is approved, it would let North Carolina grab one of two spots remaining in a federal test program on putting tolls on existing interstate highways, The Observer reported. Ohio and Texas have expressed interest in the other two.

The state then would have to prepare a formal application and the General Assembly would have to rescind a law that prohibits tolls on existing roads. The Legislature last year passed that provision at the same time it allowed a new turnpike authority to build three new toll roads.

Even if the proposal moves forward, the state wouldn’t collect its first I-95 toll until at least 2013.