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N.C. Turnpike Authority Proposes Toll Road For Triangle

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Would you be willing to pay about a dollar a day to knock 20 minutes off your commute? The Department of Transportation hopes a lot of people are.

It is part of a proposal to build a toll road through Research Triangle Park.

The Triangle has lots of traffic, but not a lot of money for projects designed to keep traffic moving. So, the state soon could ask drivers to pay as they go.

North Carolina now has a Turnpike Authority to create roads designed to pay for themselves -- toll roads.

"Only the people who use the road would be paying for that road, rather than it being the broad-based tax structure paying for it that we typically use," DOT engineer Calvin Leggett said.

The Turnpike Authority's toll-road proposals include projects near Charlotte, in Union County and along the coast. But the one proposal that could have a big impact on the Triangle is Triangle Parkway, which would start at the intersection of Interstate 40 and the Durham Freeway.

The road would run 4.5 miles, cutting through the southern half of Research Triangle Park. It would connect with the future leg of I-540, ending at McCrimmon Parkway just outside Cary.

DOT officials estimate that 36,500 drivers a day would use the alternative route to a clogged I-40.

"No, I'm not going to like spending money just to drive around," driver Mary Katherine Hobbs said. "But if it is going to make the roads better, less construction, speed up the construction that they're already having, then fine."

Driver Eric Eakin said Triangle Parkway would "get old after a while.

"I mean, gas prices are high enough, let alone have to pay for the tolls," Eakin said.

DOT officials said that once the road pays for itself, the tolls would come out. That is what happened along I-95 in Richmond, Va.

But, take the example of the Pennsylvania Turnpike. In 1940, the Turnpike Commission promised the tolls would come out when enough money came in. But there still are active tolls along that turnpike today.

The Triangle Parkway is just a proposal here. Nevertheless, it is a sign of the times when "pay as you go" is supposed to pave the way to better traffic flow.

The DOT will hold a public hearing on toll roads in June. The Turnpike Authority will vote on proposals in September.