Traffic

I-95 Among Finalists for Federal Highway Improvement Program

Posted March 8, 2007 4:13 p.m. EST

— Interstate 95 could become an eight-lane superhighway through North Carolina, complete with toll plazas.

The federal government's Corridors of the Future Program is designed to relieve congestion on the nation's most critical highways. North Carolina is one of 38 states to apply for the program and has been named one of 14 finalists.

The U.S. Department of Transportation will reviewing the 14 applications and is expected to select five this summer.

The designation would help the state with its $4 billion plan to improve I-95, which links Florida to the Northeast and is among the busiest interstates in the country.

About 60,000 vehicles travel I-95 through North Carolina each day, half of them from out of state. Highway planners expect that number to double by 2030.

Federal transportation officials said the Corridors of the Future Program would speed up permitting schedules and allow states to work together with financing.

North Carolina is considering tolls on the four new lanes, with the four existing lanes remaining free.

The state received permission from the federal government last year to create tolls on I-95, but Corridors of the Future is a separate project.

Four other Southeastern states have applied with North Carolina for the Corridors of the Future designation, and federal officials said the states would have to decide whether tolls are the best way to raise money and, if so, how much to charge drivers.

North Carolina is the only state on the East Coast without a toll highway, although state officials are considering several proposed projects for toll roads.

State officials said the only way to pay to extend Interstate 540 from Interstate 40 to N.C. Highway 55 in Wake County, for example, is to charge drivers a $2 toll. The 18-mile extension is expected to cost $800 million.

Area residents have until Monday to submit comments on the plan to the State Turnpike Authority.