Traffic

I-540 Toll Road Moves Step Closer to Reality

Posted May 16, 2007 4:59 p.m. EDT
Updated May 16, 2007 7:29 p.m. EDT

— The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization voted Wednesday to approve long-range transportation plans that call for a toll road on a section of Interstate 540 in western Wake County.

Officials have said it will cost $800 million to complete the Western Wake Expressway, a 18.6-mile stretch of I-540 which includes a 2.8-mile segment currently under construction and set to open this summer from N.C. 54 to N.C. 55.

For a state strapped for cash, officials said tolls are an option that could cover most of the cost and move up the completion by at least 20 to 30 years. Without a toll, DOT officials said it will be 2032 before I-540 is finished. With the tolls, the work could be wrapped up by 2011.

"We do need traffic relief. We've got congestion in Wake County," said county commissioner Joe Bryan. "There's 35,000 people that are either moving here and being born here, so we'll continue to grow."

Apex Mayor Keith Weatherly was the only member against the pay-to-ride option. He argued I-540 should remain one project.

"To break it now into a toll part of it -- being completed with tolls -- is frankly a lack of faith for those people in  Apex, western Wake (County) and anyone else who use it frankly," he said.

Officials said the toll would be 10 cents per mile or about $2 for the whole stretch. They also said it will ultimately be a system similar to EZ Pass, a system used in other states that allows drivers to speed through toll stations while a device in the car connects with the booth electronically and charges the driver's account.

Based on state estimates, there is a $6 billion shortfall in terms of meeting transportation needs for Wake County over the next 25 years. Estimates also suggest the area's population will grow 42 percent by 2030.