Morrisville, N.C. — More than 10,000 cars were equipped with the transponders that will automatically debit their drivers for tolls Tuesday by the time the North Carolina Turnpike Authority began collecting tolls on the 3.5-mile Triangle Parkway.
The stretch between Interstate 40 and N.C. Highway 147 in Durham County and N.C. Highway 540 in Wake County is the first road in the state to charge a toll. It opened to drivers on Dec. 8, and toll collection began Tuesday.
"It will make things quicker," said driver Dela Adams. She was one of thousands who pre-purchased the N.C. QuickPass transponder, which connects a vehicle to a credit or debit account.
When a car with a transponder passes underneath one of several overhead monitors along the new toll road, the cost of the trip is automatically deducted from the linked account. For cars without transponders, overhead cameras along the Triangle Expressway will snap pictures of the license plates, and the vehicle's owner will be mailed a bill.
The cost of the Triangle Parkway trip is 30 to 50 cents with a QuickPass and 45 to 77 cents 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.
Turnpike Authority Chief Operating Officer Barry Mickle said that, without tolls, it could have taken another 20 to 25 years to get the highway built. Instead, a section from Interstate 540 to U.S. Highway 64 in Apex is expected to open in August. The section of the highway extending from U.S. 64 to N.C. Highway 55 in Holly Springs will open by next December.
Drivers who fail to pay the toll after two weeks could 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.
The transponder comes in two forms. A hard-cased, $20 QuickPass will eventually interact with other toll systems up and down the east coast. 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.