Raleigh, N.C. — Road improvements needed to bring up to current safety standards the 182-mile stretch of Interstate 95 that runs through North Carolina could take up to four times longer to make without tolls, according to an official with the state Department of Public Transportation.
"Right now, we don't have options to do the improvements in a timely fashion," Roberto Canales, the DOT's coordinator of strategic initiatives, said Thursday on the possibility of a proposed tolling project being scrapped.
In Tuesday's gubernatorial debate, both Republican candidate Pat McCrory and his Democratic challenger, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, said they don't fully support I-95 tolls and think that the state should look elsewhere for funding.
The interstate has gone more than 50 years without major improvements, and a state-commissioned study in January recommended tolling the roadway to help pay for nearly $4.5 billion in improvements.
Those include raising bridges, rebuilding others, improving interchanges and widening the highway.
"We're talking about totally reconstructing this interstate," Canales said. "This interstate has gone well beyond its life expectancy."
Paying for the project is four times more than the DOT's annual construction budget, he said.
With tolling, he added, it would take about 20 years to complete.
"Under the current funding, if you project out, I think we ended up looking at 70-80 years to actually do the improvements (without tolling)," Canales said.
The DOT is working on an economic impact study, a draft of which is expected in the spring.
Reiterating what the candidates for governor said in Tuesday's debate, Dalton, responding to the question about how to pay for the I-95 project said Thursday: "We send more money to Washington than we get back from Washington. We need to work with our congressional delegation to make sure we get as much back as we possibly can."
McCrory spokesman Ricky Diaz said the former Charlotte mayor "will work with the business community as well as local and state officials to create an action plan, which will focus on maintaining existing infrastructure while prioritizing new projects."