Local News

Debate Over I-540 Tolls Rages Before Apex Council

Posted May 15, 2007 10:17 p.m. EDT
Updated May 15, 2007 11:14 p.m. EDT

Wake County leaders, including local mayors, will decide Wednesday whether to support turning the western leg of Interstate 540 into a toll road. The state says there's no money to build the rest of the stretch unless drivers pitch in.

The North Carolina Turnpike Authority has proposed putting toll booths on 18.6 miles of roadway. That includes a 2.8-mile segment of I-540 under construction and set to open this summer from N.C. 54 to N.C. 55.

The segment of freeway will connect two roads not built yet — the Triangle Parkway, a 3.4-mile stretch from N.C. 147 and I-40 through Research Triangle Park to I-540 and the Western Wake Parkway, and a 12.4-mile new stretch of I-540 from N.C. 55 near RTP to N.C. 55 between Holly Springs and Apex.

About a dozen Apex residents spoke out against the idea in front of the Apex Town Council Tuesday night.

“We're being taxed four times for roads,” said Larry Ballis. “I mean, that's the basic bottom line.”

“To me, a toll road is an indictment on our state government that they don't know how to manage their money,” said Marty Allen.

Others who spoke in support of the toll road say there are no other options.

“It's probably the lesser of the evils when you come right down to it,” said Clare Owens.

The total estimated cost for construction of the roadways is $800 million. Tolls would pay for about 75 percent, and the General Assembly would have to make up rest with $215 million in gap funding to build, operate and maintain the roads. The cost would come out to about $20 million a year.

State House Minority Leader Paul Stam told the Town Council Tuesday night that the money was not included in the House budget. But he said he spoke to senators on that chamber's Appropriations Committee, and he believes the money will be in the Senate version of the budget.

"The money does not exist in this state to build these kinds of projects anymore," said Steve DeWitt with the N.C. Turnpike Authority. "The options are: we put tolls on this corridor or we wait."

With tolls, DeWitt said, the roads could be built it by 2011. Without them, the projected date is 2030.

The toll would be 10 cents per mile, about $2 for whole stretch. It will ultimately be all electronic, something like the EZ Pass system used in other statesto let drivers speed through toll stations while a device in the car connects with the booth electronically and charges the driver's account.

Residents also said they think its unfair that taxes paid for the 31 miles of I-540 in the northern part of the county.

They say growth should pay for itself, and in this case it is not.

Apex Chamber of Commerce Chair Bonnie Fisher, who represents 500 members, said her group is in support of the toll roads because the road is critical

Turnpike Authority officials said people will still have the option to take non-toll roads — I-40 and NC 55 — but toll roads will be faster. However, speakers at Tuesday night’s meeting who have lived in states with toll roads said there will still be backups even with electronic passes because there will always have to be a cash lane.

Apex Mayor Keith Weatherly said that at this point, he is inclined to vote against the toll proposal.

“I think there are too many uncertainties for us to be able to commit at this time,” he said.