Local News

Officials Discuss Ways to Raise Road Funds

Posted August 31, 2007 8:55 p.m. EDT
Updated August 31, 2007 9:16 p.m. EDT

— Exploding traffic plus dwindling road dollars could equal a big problem for drivers.

This week, the governor met with lawmakers to come up with solutions. But any decisions could be months away.

Some people have considered unconventional ways to raise funds for roadwork. Depending on where you drive and how far, you could pick up the lion's share of the tab.

One idea would tax drivers by the mile. Another could fill a funding gap to build the rest of Interstate 540.

A planned toll road on the newest section of 540 – which was designated N.C. 540 rather than being made legally part of the interstate for just that reason –was supposed to help relieve some of the congestion around Wake County. Lawmakers didn't approve the funding, so some have proposed other ways to get the job done.

I-540 is a major route around Wake County. At this point, though, it's anyone's guess when the entire loop will be finished.

“We gotta have this road. How can we do it?” said Holly Springs Mayor Dick Sears.

Sears has brought back an old idea.

“Let’s toll the whole thing. I know it’s against statutes, but statutes can be changed,” he said.

Sears said collecting tolls on existing portions of I-540 that run through the northern and eastern parts of Wake County would help pay for the sections that aren't built yet. It's those sections, including the proposed Triangle Expressway between I-540 and the Durham Freeway, where the money is coming up short.

Lawmakers were not able to agree on giving $20 million to get the road started. Sears said tolling the entire 540 loop would fill in that gap. North Carolina Turnpike Authority board member Perry Safran didn’t dispute that.

“It’s a good idea. Yes, it’s a good idea. It’s something that should be investigated,” he said.

But Safran was quick to point out that in order for it to happen, the law would have to be changed. That’s not an easy task and not the Turnpike Authority's decision.

“We’re not in the business of asking or dictating policy,” Safran said. “We work for the General Assembly.”

The future of the rest of the road was still in limbo. And while the idea of tolling it in entirety could work financially, there were still several hurdles to overcome, even on the local level.

“I feel confident that I and the Raleigh City Council would vigorously oppose tolling any of our existing roads,” said Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker.

There is still a chance that lawmakers could decide to hold a special session to talk about transportation issues. But that is not a done deal. In the meantime, the Turnpike Authority is looking at a public-private partnership to get the Expressway built. A private company would build and, in effect, lease the road and collect the tolls. The state would own it, however.