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Easley, Tippett: Agree To Disagree?

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REIDSVILLE, N.C. — Gov. Easley has stepped in to toss out a plan that would charge people to drive on I-95.

It is the same plan that Easley's transportation secretary said he supported just a few days ago.

If communication is a two-way street, someone seems to be going in the wrong direction.

Should North Carolina ask the federal government for permission to turn I-95 into a toll road? It depends on who you ask -- and when.

"I think it's a reasonable request," Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett said Nov 4. about pursuing I-95 tolls.

DOT officials say they can pay for needed improvements to I-95 without raising taxes by placing toll booths along the highway. Would you rather pay tolls or higher taxes? Tolls Taxes

But, said Easley on Monday, "I don't want to do toll roads, especially on an existing highway."

Easley, Tippett's boss, said the two men are both opposed to tolls on I-95. That is not what people heard 13 days ago.

"Let's let other communities in North Carolina pay for their own projects using our existing revenues," Tippett said then. "Then, through the use of tolls, let's let the users of I-95 participate more in making all these improvements."

That sounded like a ringing endorsement for the tolls. But again, Easley heard a different message than other people did.

"He and I are in sync," Easley said of Tippett during an appearance in Reidsville on Monday. "We don't like the idea. We don't think it works, especially on an existing road."

The governor said there is an explanation for the apparent disagreement.

"Is there a difference of opinion between the governor and the transportation secretary on tolls?" Easley asked, rhetorically. "No. Secretary Tippett was trying to follow the legislative mandate, which was to see if you can get federal authority for the tolls."

The governor said he still supports the North Carolina Turnpike Authority, which is examining what new private roads could be toll roads. But Easley also wants everyone to know his official line on I-95 tolls.

"I don't think it's a good idea," he said, "and we're not going forward with it."

Tippett would not talk to WRAL on-camera Monday. According to a spokesperson, Tippett told his staff to halt the federal application process for I-95 tolls.

That brings the idea to a halt, unless it is revived in the legislature.

Easley said he doubts the legislature would revive the idea to put tolls on 95. He said if they do, and a bill reaches his desk, he will veto it.