Local News

540 tolls not 'your grandfather's toll road'

Posted May 12, 2008 6:21 p.m. EDT
Updated May 12, 2008 9:37 p.m. EDT

— State transportation planners got their first look at how a new no-stop toll system could work when the next extension of N.C. Highway 540 opens.

"This is not your grandfather's toll road," Jim Eden, chief operating officer of the North Carolina Turnpike Authority, said Monday. "We're really trying to make this convenient for the customer." (View an animation of how the new toll roads would work.)

Last November, the Turnpike Authority unanimously voted to go to a cashless system that would give commuters several options to pay without them having to stop along the future Triangle Expressway.

Among those choices, at approximately 14 cents a mile, would be a vehicle transponder that infrared technology at the toll area detects. A computer system would then deduct money from a commuter's prepaid account.

Transponders would cost $8 to $20 and would be available online, at stores or area kiosks.

Another option, at about 28 cents a mile, would be for drivers to register their license plates and get billed accordingly when a video camera records their car's passage.

If a vehicle is not registered, motorists would receive a mailed invoice. The cost would be closer to 42 cents per mile.

"The camera systems, generally, we're used to delivering are 99.6 and higher of usable license plates of the vehicle, so you just don't miss it," said Scot Goettsch of Jai Inc., one of nine vendors demonstrating the latest toll technologies.

It's still not clear, however, when the tolls would be in place.

The General Assembly must approve gap funding for about $20 million a year. That could happen in the upcoming legislative session. If so, construction on the first stretch could begin this summer and could be open by December 2010.

If not, the project could be delayed for several more years because of environmental permits, the Turnpike Authority said. Construction costs would be an estimated $60 million more a year because of rising prices.

The cost of the entire Triangle Expressway is an estimated $1 billion. Additional funding would come from the tolls and would take about 40 years for the project to be paid off.