Holly Springs, N.C. — The completion of North Carolina's first toll road means area drivers have to balance the cost of driving on the new highway against a savings in time and money, officials say.
The third and final leg of the Triangle Expressway in western Wake County opens Thursday morning, but tolls won't be collected on the 6-mile stretch until Jan. 2.
"Merry Christmas to those who want to use this road," North Carolina Transportation Secretary Gene Conti said Wednesday while wearing a red Santa suit.
The new section, which runs from U.S. Highway 64 in Apex to the N.C. Highway 55 Bypass in Holly Springs, is opening 13 days early and millions of dollars under budget, Conti said.
Drivers will have to pay for the early present, however.
The Department of Transportation says a trip on the 18-mile toll road will cost $2.34 for drivers with an N.C. Quick Pass transponder on their vehicles and $3.59 for drivers who have to be billed by mail after the electronic tolling gantries snap photos of their license plates.
Even with a transponder, using the toll road could cost a driver more than $1,200 a year for a round-trip commute along the entire length five days a week. The DOT says people need to balance that against an estimated savings of 20 minutes on each one-way trip, along with the extra gas spent in traffic on local roads.
Area residents valued the savings differently.
"If it was going to save 20 minutes each way and that means an extra 40 minutes with my husband at night that he can spend with our kids, then yeah, that would be worth the money," said Nicole Pawelski, of Holly Springs.
"I'm trying to be efficient with my spending. I don't think I'll use it," said Audrey Pedeliski, of Fuquay-Varina. "I think, as long as I can get good gas prices, I'll probably go the extra length down (N.C.) 55 and put up with the pain."
"I think it's a bargain. I mean, really, because traffic is just a nightmare," said Carol Tavitian, of Fuquay-Varina.
The opening comes a year after the first section of the toll road, the Triangle Parkway, opened, connecting N.C. Highway 147 in Durham to N.C. Highway 540 in Wake County. The second section, which carried N.C. 540 to U.S. 64, opened in August.
Conti said the transponders will be compatible with the E-ZPass toll-collection system used in the Northeast by early January, and he expects it to work with toll systems in Georgia, Florida and other Southern states by the middle of next year.