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Halifax County Officials Hope To Never See Tolls On I-95

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ROANOKE RAPIDS, N.C. — Gov. Mike Easley has given thumbs down to turning I-95 into a toll road.

Monday, at Easley's request, the state Department of Transportation withdrew its federal application to set up toll booths along the major interstate. But the idea is not dead altogether.

Lawmakers could revive the plan. But they will have to answer to some tough critics who look at the I-95 pipeline as a lifeline.

Travelers who use the exit on I-95 at Roanoke Rapids and Weldon do more than just spend money: They help drive the region's economy. The prospect of the state's first toll road on the highway is sending shockwaves throughout the business community.

"We're counting on some of those interstate dollars to support those businesses," said Brenda Blackburn, of the Roanoke Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Roanoke Rapids City Manager Rick Benton said the implementation of tolls "would only hurt us."

"Our unemployment rate exceeds 10 percent," Benton said.

DOT officials say they can pay for needed improvements to I-95 without raising taxes by placing toll booths along the highway.

The welcome center on I-95 in Northampton County, just across the Virginia line, is the first pit stop for southbound motorists inside North Carolina. Automobile license tags in the parking lot Monday represented a broad spectrum of how travelers from Canada to Florida use I-95 to reach their destinations.

Pennsylvania motorist Walter Dyer offered a good example of why a toll road may impact the state's economy.

"I'd probably use another highway," Dyer said. "It would be worth going out of the way. For $18, I would."

Businesses in the Roanoke Valley hope tolls on I-95 never will happen. They fear that tolls will cost the region much-needed jobs and income.

As much as $60 million came to Halifax County last year as the result of tourism, and county leaders said tolls are not worth that tradeoff.


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