Durham, N.C. — After six years of planning and construction, the Triangle Parkway, a portion of the state's first modern toll road, opened to traffic Thursday.
"It feels like delivering your first child," said David Joyner, executive director of the North Carolina Turnpike Authority.
Tolls will be collected electronically along the 3.5-mile stretch of highway from Interstate 40 and N.C. Highway 147 in Durham County to N.C. Highway 540 in Wake County, starting Jan. 3.
Motorists can pay the tolls in two ways:
- An N.C. Quick Pass transponder placed on a vehicle's windshield is detected by the toll readers. The transponder is linked to a credit card, and drivers receive a monthly statement. Transponders can be bought and payments made online or in person at the Quick Pass Customer Service Center, 200 Sorrell Grove Church Road in Morrisville.
- Overhead cameras will snap pictures of the license plates of any vehicle without a transponder, and the vehicle's owner will be mailed a bill. People who ignore the bill will have a hold placed on their annual vehicle registration.
Tolls are 30 to 50 cents for cars with a Quick Pass and 45 to 77 cents for those without. By the time the entire 18.8-mile Triangle Expressway opens in late 2012, the tolls will average 15 cents a mile with a transponder and about 24 cents a mile without.
"The only way to get an exact rate is a ticket system, and we're not going to use a ticket system," Joyner said, noting that electronic tolling eliminates the need for drivers to stop at toll booths.
About 4,000 transponders have already been sold.
"I think that indicates most people understand you get what you pay for, and if you want a new road, if you want a new facility that's going to help you with your daily travels, you're going to have to pay something for it," North Carolina Transportation Secretary Gene Conti said.
The Turnpike Authority expects rates to increase about 5 percent a year through 2015. Money collected from the tolls will pay off about 70 percent of the $1 billion construction cost of the road.
Officials said they're working with other states and major rental car companies to ensure those drivers will be penalized for not paying North Carolina tolls. Within a few months, the Quick Pass is expected to work on E-Z pass and other tolling systems along the East Coast.
Conti was in the first car to travel along the new highway after officials cut the ribbon on the road Thursday. He said North Carolina's first toll road won't be its last.
"I think tolling is going to be part of our future," he said, citing a project under construction in Monroe and one being planned in Gastonia.
Transportation officials also are considering collecting tolls along portions of Interstate 95 to pay for its modernization and creating toll lanes for high-occupancy vehicles in Charlotte, he said.
Driver Julia Sears said paying tolls on the Triangle Expressway will be worth a shorter commute.
"Right now, I live in Holly Springs and I work in Durham, so it takes me about 45 minutes to an hour to get to work every day," Sears said.
Driver Ike Woodard, of Cary, said he doesn't plan to use the toll road regularly but might find it convenient when he's in a hurry.
"If I'm late or something like that and want to get on there with the Quick Pass, I probably will get the Quick Pass. I don't want to do the pay-as-you-go thing," Woodard said.
The remaining portion of the Triangle Expressway will open in two stages.
A section from Interstate 540 to U.S. Highway 64 in Apex is expected to open in August. At that time, tolls also will be charged on the existing portion of N.C. 540 between N.C. Highways 54 and 55.
The section of the highway extending from U.S. 64 to N.C. 55 in Holly Springs will open by next December.