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Study Provides Glimpse Into Public Opinion Of Toll Roads

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RALEIGH, N.C. — State leaders now have the results of a recent study that gauges public opinion on implementing toll roads in the Triangle area and across the state.

"We're trying to see what was the value that people placed on their time," said Frank Wilson, whose consulting company, Frank Wilson & Associates, conducted focus groups asking people if they would pay a toll to shorten their daily commute.

The research, however, did not identify a dollar amount, only an attitude about need.

Among the findings, study participants viewed congestion relief as important and realized that toll roads are inevitable. Many who viewed tolling positively believed that they would not be among the users of the tolled roads.

The exception was the proposed 13-mile Western Wake Parkway, which extends from Interstate 540 from N.C. Highway 55 south of Morrisville to N.C. Highway 55 south of Apex. Respondents that would be served by the roadway recognized the need and felt the congestion warrants the toll because the need for relief is urgent.

The Western Wake Parkway, along with the proposed Triangle Parkway -- which would extend N.C. Highway 147 3.5 miles between Interstate 40 in Durham County, and Interstate 540 in Wake County -- would cost more than $900 million.

"You're looking for as much self-sustainability as you can get," said David Joyner with the North Carolina Turnpike Authority, which asked for the study. "And that little 3½ mile section brings a lot of revenue."

In terms of self-sustainability, the Triangle Parkway alone is projected to bring in between $150 million to $200 million over the life of the toll road.

"That particular corridor, along I-40, carries up to 140,000 vehicles a day, with a projected growth in the Triangle areas -- I've heard as high as 225,000. And I-40 will simply not carry that sort of capacity," said Lindo Tippett, secretary for the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

Once state and local leaders decide on what to build, and where, construction could begin in late 2007 or early 2008.

Nearly 5,000 miles of toll roads run through 26 states. Florida has the most mileage, with more than 650. Oklahoma, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and New Jersey, also top the list.