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State Officials Quiet On Virginia Border Toll Road Proposal

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina lawmakers are saying very little about Virginia lawmakers' plans to set up border tolls on Interstate 85 and Interstate 95 at the North Carolina-Virginia border.

Searching for ways to pay for road maintenance, Virginia senators overwhelming approved a plan to form a toll compact with North Carolina so that both states could share in toll proceeds. The Virginia House is expected to follow in approving the plan.

If that were to happen, it would then be up to North Carolina legislators to decide whether to participate in the compact.

"I know the difficulty both states are having in funding those transportation issues and this is just a way to get those who are using our highways who currently are not donating to either state," said Virginia Sen. Frank Wagner.

North Carolina state Rep. Bill Owens admitted that he had casual conversations with Virginia lawmakers about the joint tolls, but now that Virginia is moving on it, he is hesitant to talk.

"I need to sit down and discuss this with my colleagues before we go further, but we ought to consider this," Owens said.

Co-chairman of the transportation advocacy group N.C. Go, Larry Goode also won't comment on the compact proposal, but said the group supports tolling Interstate 95.

"We think there's a desperate need out there to improve that roadway," Goode said. "And it's a $3 billion problem."

Interstate 85, however, is a whole different conversation, Goode said. While some lawmakers like hitting up out-state-drivers for tolls, I-85 handles more local traffic than I-95.

Gov. Mike Easley and the Department of Transportation are not yet commenting on the toll compact, saying it is a legislative decision.

Some lawmakers said they want toll discounts for local residents if it is approved.

If it's not, Virginia is expected to move forward with it's own tolls on I-95.

Tolls along the Virginia-North Carolina border are not the first proposals in the state. Local leaders are considering them on Interstate 540 to help further fund the construction project.

Leaders are also discussing another toll western Wake County, where the proposed Triangle Parkway would stretch four miles from the Durham Freeway to a future section of I-540 and possibly into Morrisville.

Early plans indicate it would cost drivers about $1, and could save 5 to 10 minutes off some commutes.