RALEIGH, N.C. — A critical step for the future of toll roads in the Triangle came this week as state officials asked the federal government to decide if the plan can move forward.
The state Department of Transportation board made its toll road request to the Federal Highway Administration on Thursday.
Many local leaders have voiced support for toll roads and have eyed parts of Interstate 540 for future tolls. However, much of the public has a different opinion.
In a recent WRAL/News & Observer poll, likely voters were asked what they think is the best way to pay for highway improvements. Toll roads were at the bottom of the list, with only 7 percent of people showing support for the idea. Higher gas taxes, asking for money from the federal government, and more charges for private developers received more support.
The DOT and several Wake County mayors have said tolls need to be an option to raise funds for road building. State officials said they're about $65 million short of what's required for future projects.
Like the recent poll, most drivers that WRAL talked to Tuesday said toll roads aren't the way to go.
"I think we pay enough for everything. We're paying for everything," said driver Angela Rietzel. "I think we should not have to pay like this for our roads."
"I just think it makes more sense in our area to not have toll roads here," said driver Rob Speer.
Along with being the Triangle's first possible toll road, one section of I-540 also presents another twist in the toll debate. If the federal government approves the plan, toll booths would go on a road that taxpayers have already paid for, leaving some drivers talking about double taxation.
"I'm not surprised at the numbers in your poll," said Perry Safran, secretary/treasurer of the North Carolina Turnpike Authority. "We do have a lot of work to do."
The Legislature formed the Turnpike Authority to build toll roads. Safran said it's a group that's not trying to win a popularity contest.
"We're here to build roads," he said. "We're here to get congestion lowered. We're here to get pollution lowered. We're here to get people home faster."
Safran said that if people were told that road construction projects could take decades to be finished without tolls, they might change their minds.
"Please, please keep an open mind," he said. "We've got a long way to go. We'll do our part. We promise we'll make it easy."