Drivers snap up transponders for NC toll road
Posted December 29, 2011
Updated January 31, 2012
Morrisville, N.C. — Sales of the transponders needed to limit the cost of driving on North Carolina's first modern toll road are spiking with less than a week left before the state starts charging to drive on the road.
The 3.5-mile Triangle Parkway opened on Dec. 8, connecting Interstate 40 and N.C. Highway 147 in Durham County to N.C. Highway 540 in Wake County, but officials haven't yet collected tolls on it. The tolling starts next Tuesday.
Tolls will be collected electronically on the highway, which is the first segment of the 18.8-mile Triangle Expressway that will eventually stretch from I-40 to N.C. Highway 55 in Holly Springs.
The Turnpike Authority has already sold more than 9,300 of the N.C. QuickPass transponders that drivers can use to pay the tolls, including about 1,000 in the last two days, Chief Operating Officer Barry Mickle said Thursday. The agency had set a goal of selling 2,700 transponders by next June.
"Absolutely, we're blown away," Mickle said.
Use of the Triangle Parkway since its opening has also topped expectations, with 8,000 to 10,000 vehicles per day, officials said.
The Turnpike Authority is negotiating with other states so that the $20 encased QuickPass transponder would work on their tolling systems, and Mickle said officials hope to have those agreements in place by next summer.
For people who don't drive much outside of North Carolina, a $5 QuickPass sticker transponder is available.
Both forms of the transponder can be linked to a prepaid account or a credit or debit card for monthly billing.
Overhead cameras along the Triangle Expressway will snap pictures of the license plates of any vehicle without a transponder, and the vehicle's owner will be mailed a monthly bill. People will have two weeks to pay the bill or face additional fees and penalties.
"If you refuse to pay your bill, after it reaches a certain limit, we do have the ability to hold your (vehicle) registration," Mickle said.
Tolls are 30 to 50 cents for cars with a QuickPass and 45 to 77 cents for those without. By the time the entire 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 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.
Many drivers said they are more interested in the savings of using the toll road rather than the expense.
"The time is the main thing," driver James White said.
White said he has already purchased transponders for his car and his wife's and plans to buy a third for a company van.
Driver Greg Witucki said he has used the toll road daily in recent weeks and plans to be a regular paid user.
"I save a little bit of time going to work, so I'm all for it," Witucki said.
Driver Bill Pogue was less enthused about having to buy two transponders.
"It's part of living here and being in the community," Pogue 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.