Lawmakers in North Carolina and Virginia are taking steps
toward going into the toll road business together.
About a month after officials in Virginia signed off on a
bill authorizing a toll plaza to be placed on Interstate 95 at the border
between Virginia and North Carolina, a Tar Heel State lawmaker has filed
legislation that would do the same thing on his side of the state line. If
enacted, it would need final approval from Congress.
If lawmakers in North Carolina and Congress sign off on
charging drivers to cross the states’ common border south of Richmond, VA, cars would pay $5. A higher fee would be applied to large trucks, which make up about
30 percent of I-95 traffic.
The tolling compact could bring in nearly $65 million
annually for each state, The Associated Press reported. It would require
revenue to be spent on work for the nearly 50-year-old roadway.
North Carolina Department of Transportation officials
estimate that I-95 through the state is in need of $4 billion in repairs.
Supporters say the disparity between revenue generated
through fuel taxes and rising construction costs means that state leaders must
consider alternative funding sources – including tolls.
“We proposed this to get the discussion started about the
concept,” Sen. Clark Jenkins, D-Tarboro, told The AP.
Gov. Mike Easley quashed a tolling effort three years ago. A
spokesman for the governor recently told The AP he still opposes tolling
existing roads. But Jenkins said Easley may have a change of heart given the
The border-toll bill – SB1578 – is in the Senate
The bill follows up a proposal by Sen. Larry Shaw,
D-Fayetteville, to turn all of I-95 in the state into a toll road. Shaw has yet
to introduce a bill.
“It’s the only option we’ve got,” Shaw, who chairs the
Senate Transportation Committee, told NBC-17, 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 NCDOT 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 tolls to existing roads.
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, NBC-17 reported.
Others say a toll is just a tax on drivers who already pay
their dues at the fuel pump.
At a forum earlier this month, 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, according to 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.