South Carolina seeks to toll I-95

| 5/9/2006

The South Carolina Department of Transportation is interested in tolling Interstate 95.

The department sent a formal “expression of interest” letter to the Federal Highway Administration asking to be included in a pilot toll road program, said Susan Johnson, department spokeswoman. She said such a letter is the first step in an involved process leading up to consideration by both the FHWA and state lawmakers.

The federal government included the pilot tolling program in highway funding legislation signed into law in August 2005. The program would be administered by the FHWA and would allow the addition of tolls on existing interstates in three states.

South Carolina’s request will require approval by the state legislature. The whole process could take several years, including the formal application process and environmental review.

Johnson said South Carolina has traditionally been opposed to tolls on existing routes, but the DOT wants to keep the option open for tolls because I-95 is aging and congested. It was built in sections from 1963 to 1977.

“The primary reason is the condition of the road, as well as the service of the road,” she said. “We are hoping to receive reconstruction and rehabilitation out of the tolls.”

Missouri has already filed an FHWA application for permission to toll a portion of Interstate 70 in the St. Louis area, and Virginia is in the early stages of applying for a toll on Interstate 81.

The 2005 highway bill, known as the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users – or SAFETEA-LU – contains other provisions for private-sector investment in the operation and maintenance of toll roads.

That’s what is happening in states like Indiana, with the private lease of the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road, and in Illinois, with the Chicago Skyway’s 99-year lease.

– By David Tanner, staff writer