North Carolina lawmaker talks of turning I-95 into a toll road

| 5/11/2006

A North Carolina state lawmaker said he wants to turn Interstate 95 in the state into a toll road to pay for upgrades.

Sen. Larry Shaw, D-Fayetteville, said he has yet to introduce a bill, but lawmakers soon will tackle the issue during the legislative session that started May 9.

“It’s the only option we’ve got,” Shaw, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee, told NBC17, a television station in Raleigh. “That’s why we say put (toll booths) at the border. We just want the traveling community that’s passing through to help pay for this road.”

Early this year, the North Carolina Department of Transportation turned in an application to the Federal Highway Administration to preserve the state’s option of designating I-95 throughout the state as a pay-to-play route. If given federal approval, the General Assembly would be able to consider changing a state law that prohibits adding tollbooths to existing roads.

A similar request has been submitted by the South Carolina Department of Transportation for that state’s stretch of I-95. A federal pilot program is in place and could allow up to three states to add tolling to interstates.

In April, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine signed a bill that would allow a toll plaza to be placed on I-95 at the border between Virginia and North Carolina.

The tolling compact could bring in nearly $50 million to $60 million annually for the two states, The Associated Press reported. It calls for $5 car tolls with a higher fee for large trucks.

North Carolina lawmakers would have to approve the same measure. It would also need final approval from Congress.

Supporters of tolling the nearly 50-year-old roadway say it is running out of ways to make needed improvements and accommodate traffic counts that are expected to double by 2030.

Opponents say the state should tap into some of a projected $1 billion surplus to replenish the state’s Highway Trust Fund for making upgrades. The fund is raided annually to cover budget shortfalls, NBC17 reported.

Others say a toll is just a tax on drivers who already pay their dues at the fuel pump.

At a forum May 8, some elected officials and business people from communities along the 182-mile route told NCDOT officials that drivers would go out of their way to avoid tolls, The Fayetteville Observer. They said that would hurt businesses along the interstate, cut into anticipated toll revenues and lead to a large number of vehicles diverting to nearby secondary roads.