RALEIGH, N.C. — Tolls are a proposed quick fix to budget-busting Wake County road projects. In fact, some say adding tolls to Interstate 540 would speed up other critical projects.
In the desperate battle to land limited state money, local governments give the Department of Transportation a road building wish list. Moving up a notch can move a highway project from the drawing board to construction.
"There's positives and negatives about everything, and if a road's on the Toll Authority's list, it's not on your local government priority list," said DOT Division Engineer Jon Nance.
The DOT is considering three toll roads in Durham and Wake counties, but the idea won't win a Triangle popularity contest. In a recent WRAL/The News & Observer poll, only 7 percent of respondents support tolls as a road-funding source.
One of the road projects that could move up the priority list if toll roads come to town is widening the southern portion of the beltline through Raleigh. But some people who have a say in the process say using tolls to move other projects up the list doesn't sit well with them.
"I mean it does sound like a bait and switch," said Raleigh councilman Philip Isley
Isley votes each year on the road wish list.
"It's a great soundbite for the DOT to come out and say, 'Oh yeah, you build these with toll road money, and you're going get two more roads in exchange for it,'" he said. "This shouldn't be the case that way."
Isley said the problem is the state's road funding formula, which gives all areas of the state equal construction money. Rural areas get the same amount as congested urban areas.
The request to put tolls on part of I-540 that's already under construction is pending with the Federal Highway Administration.