Needed Freeways Likely Won't Be Free

Posted January 19, 2007 6:46 p.m. EST
Updated February 12, 2007 9:54 a.m. EST

— Transportation officials discussed ideas Friday for building needed roads in the Triangle faster, and two of three suggestions would require local residents to pony up the cash.

Unless there are drastic changes in the way North Carolina pays for road construction, toll plazas could be coming to new highways in the region.

A section of Interstate 540 between Interstate 40 and N.C. Highway 55 is under consideration to become one of the first toll roads in the state. Backers said funds from a toll road could knock decades off the construction timetable for the rest of I-540.

"Ultimately, tolls are a use tax. Those who use the road fund the road," said Rick Weddle of the Regional Transportation Alliance. "Since progress is not optional, getting a road built in our lifetime that will improve our life patterns and our lifestyles is better than standing on principal of being against tolls."

But state Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake County, said a better option for getting more roads built would be to rework the state highway funding formula so more money goes to heavy traffic areas like the Triangle.

"If we have an alternative, I would say, 'Let's do the alternative,'" Hunt said. "We absolutely need to change that equity formula so that the money goes to urban counties as opposed to the rural counties."

The only other likely option to meet the projected $65 billion shortfall in state highway funding would be to adopt a 1-cent local-option sales tax, with all of the revenue going into a roads fund, officials said. That plan would require legislative approval.

Polls show that most local drivers don't like the idea of toll roads, but toll backers said drivers would be willing to pay the freight if faced with a choice between no road or a toll road.