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Construction on State-Funded Loop Roads Hits Roadblock

The Highway Trust Fund was designed to relieve congestion in Raleigh, Durham and other urban areas across North Carolina. Nearly 20 years later, those plans are well behind schedule.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Skyrocketing costs, flat revenues and increased demands are to blame for an incomplete loop-highway system planned out nearly 20 years ago, according to a Department of Transportation official.

The General Assembly passed a law in 1989 to raise taxes and create the North Carolina Highway Trust Fund to build urban beltlines around the state's largest metropolitan cities.

The initial seven highways – in Asheville, Charlotte, Durham Greensboro, Raleigh, Wilmington and Winston-Salem – were expected to be completed in 2004, but DOT manager Calvin Leggett said 60 percent of those roads have yet to be built.

Construction has yet to begin on loop roadways in Durham, Asheville and Winston-Salem.

"We started out building, thinking we'd build four-lane freeways. Well, most of them are now six- and eight-(lanes)," Leggett said. "We actually built a stretch in Charlotte four lanes, and it's over capacity. We haven't even finished the Charlotte lop, and parts need to be expanded already."

The program was to build 211 miles of loop roads at an estimated cost of $2.11 billion.

As of the end of fiscal year 2007, 155.1 miles were complete and 223.9 miles – on those remaining seven roads (not including Durham) and three new ones in Fayetteville, Gastonia and Greenville – remained and had an estimated construction cost of $5.5 billion.

The cost of the Durham loop is unknown and not included in the estimates of remaining costs.

Locally, work on N.C. Highway 540 in Wake County has come to a halt because there's no funding for future construction.

"We've been told 540, for example – it may be 2030-2035 before the next quadrant – not the whole thing but the next quadrant – may be finished," Sen. Richard Stevens, R-Wake, said.

Officials say that without a toll road or other sources of revenue, it could be decades before the next section of N.C. 540 is built.

"We're behind, and it's frustrating," Stevens said. "I'm not happy about it."


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