JOHNSTON COUNTY, N.C. — People who live and work along Interstate 95 gathered Monday to discuss the future of the aging interstate -- a future many hope does not include toll roads.
There are no plans to improve North Carolina's section of I-95, but changes that are needed, engineers have said, would require hundreds of millions of dollars.
The 50-year-old roadway has twice the fatality rate of any other state highway, and traffic counts are expected to double in the next 20 years.
At Monday's meeting, which also made up of local government and elected representatives, State Sen. Larry Shaw, D-Cumberland, said tolls are the only way to come up with the funding for road improvement.
"We started this toll discussion eight years ago because it's needed," Shaw said. "There are no options, no means of supporting financing improvements -- the only option we are left with are toll roads."
But business owners and other leaders argued that toll roads would be counterproductive.
"We're looking to have people stop and visit with us, and if we continue to tax and put tolls on them they won't come by," said Four Oaks Mayor Linwood Parker. "So, that is not something we want to do in eastern North Carolina."
Some state representatives said toll opponents need to yield because I-95 is running out of funding options. A representative of AAA of the Carolinas also attended the meeting, saying that 73 percent of its members opposed tolls.
"They talk about options. They never looked at toll roads when they were widening I-85 and widening I-40, but now that they're talking about widening I-95 in eastern North Carolina, it definitely concerns me," said business owner Sarai Daniels.
The state Legislature would have to change the law to allow tolls on an existing highway.