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Private Money May Prove to Be Best Route to Toll Roads

Posted August 6, 2007
Updated August 7, 2007

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— Does North Carolina need toll roads badly enough to pay private companies to build and operate them?

The answer may be “yes,” and the tolls would likely be higher and be collected for more years if the answer turns out to be a public-private partnership.

Many state lawmakers are pushing for a special legislative session on transportation issues. With the proposed Triangle Expressway front and center in current discussions, money for toll roads would be a central issue.

There was an attempt as the Legislature wound up its regular session last week to find $20 million for the Expressway from the Durham Freeway to Interstate 540, but lawmakers could not settle on a plan in both chambers before time ran out.

If the state does not put up money to get things started, however, turnpike officials are trying to keep their options open.

“If we can't do that and there's not a special session, our executive committee has asked us to look at a public-private partnership,” said David Joyner, executive director of the North Carolina Turnpike Authority.

While most toll roads are publicly built, private companies constructed and now run toll roads in three states. The companies paid to build the roads and are recouping their investments from toll revenue.

“Maybe it would make some sense,” Joyner said. “We've had one company that has expressed an interest in maybe doing that along those lines, but the plan would have to have total transparency. The way we're looking at it, the public would know what the terms would be.”

The Legislature would still have to sign off on any public-private partnership, and at least one lawmaker has mixed feelings.

“Generally speaking, you find the private sector doing things pretty well. The difference here, though, is a private company would have to try to make a profit off a highway,” Sen. Richard Stevens, R-Wake, said.

In Texas, a group of foreign investors funded a public-private toll road.

“The idea of a foreign country or foreign investors owning our roads, that bothers me a great deal. We don't need to do that,” Stevens said.

A Turnpike Authority spokesperson said that with inflation, the cost of building a toll road goes up $2.5 million a month while the debate swirls.

In addition to the Triangle Expressway, The Turnpike Authority is considering the public-private solution for four other projects.

They are: the Mid-Currituck bridge, spanning from Barco to Corolla on the Outer Banks; the Monroe Connector around U.S. 74 in Monroe County; the Cape Fear Skyway, a bridge over the Cape Fear River into Wilmington; and the Gaston Garden Parkway, connecting Gaston to I-485 around Charlotte.

131 Comments

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  • casp3r Aug 7, 2007

    NeverSurrender= Ok thanks for clearing that up.

  • NeverSurrender Aug 7, 2007

    "What does this mean then?"

    ---

    That the person making that statement didn't fully understand that the state would retain title to the land/road even in a public-private partnership, they did understand it and misspoke, or they understand it and are engaging in a bit of fear-mongering about those durned furriners and their investments to try to scuttle the idea.

    Operating under the presumption of assuming stupidity rather than malice until proven otherwise, I'm voting for option #2.

  • ezLikeSundayMorning Aug 7, 2007

    Corporations aren't evil and government (and taxes) are not either. If a corporation builds the road, they'll want (rightfully so) to make a profit. If government builds it, they won't do it as effiently. We can't expect companies to give up profit, so we should push our government to do the job well. Government can do a good job if we let them. Maybe we could allow them to give good contractors preferential treatment. They come in on time and on budget reliably, so they win even if their bid is 7% higher than a new contractor or 15% higher than a bad one.

    I suggested raising the gas tax earlier and nobody even blinked, that should tell the legislature that people really hate tolls. We can live with taxes that provide a real service and are fair.

    Since ya'll brought it up, I think a real rail system is a great idea. Better to start now than later.

  • casp3r Aug 7, 2007

    “The idea of a foreign country or foreign investors owning our roads, that bothers me a great deal. We don't need to do that,” Stevens said.

    What does this mean then?

  • NeverSurrender Aug 7, 2007

    "the idea of selling our roads to private intrest is about the most stupid idea out of Raleigh lately and there has been some real dumb ones lately."

    ---

    That's not the proposal being floated. The private company would merely be contracted to build the road and collect the tolls as reimbursement. The state would still "own" the road.

  • richard2 Aug 7, 2007

    Build the road when you can afford it. No to toll roads.

  • goobnav Aug 7, 2007

    Amen, SANDHILL!

  • SANDHILL Aug 7, 2007

    Getting back to the subject of toll roads for a moment after all the taxes we have paid where has the money gone? To fund the general budget and fund other pet projects. the idea of selling our roads to private intrest is about the most stupid idea out of Raleigh lately and there has been some real dumb ones lately.

  • zodad Aug 7, 2007

    @GWALLY Thank you and God bless you.

  • zodad Aug 7, 2007

    @GWALLY I do have knowledge of Worldcom,Enron,Adelphia, etc etc etc have a nice day and don't forget to worship at the corporate altar on your hot drive home....stay safe and heed my quote...
    "Overconfident fools play a fools game and usually end up being devoured by their obsessions".

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