Traffic

State House Puts Brakes on Turnpike-Funding Bill

Posted August 1, 2007 6:02 p.m. EDT
Updated August 2, 2007 12:57 p.m. EDT

— State House lawmakers on Wednesday said they would not approve a bill that called for raising vehicle registration fees and the vehicle sales tax to build toll roads.

Supporters said the decision was bad news for the North Carolina Turnpike Authority, which was depending on the increases to start paying for the Triangle Expressway, an 18.8-mile stretch of road promised to ease traffic congestion in the Triangle.

The Triangle Expressway would be a toll road that would connect the Durham Freeway with Interstate 540, as well as extend a western leg to Holly Springs.

Senate Bill 1352 would have raised vehicle registration fees by $15 and the sales tax on vehicles by 1 percentage point to generate money to build toll roads. It passed the Senate, but did not get out of the House of Representatives.

"It is just plain and simple," said David Joyner with the Turnpike Authority. "This is the down payment we needed on the house."

Members of the Turnpike Authority said they were depending on revenue generated by the bill's provisions to generate $18 million in gap funding so the authority could start building the road.

"You know, they just don't want to hear a tax increase, right now, after the budget, and you know it's understandable," Joyner said. "We're just kind of left out of the mix."

The law had the potential to raise $300 million for new roads across the state. Without it, Joyner said, many projects are in limbo while traffic gets worse.

"We've got to do something about the dwindling resources that are being used for transportation," Joyner said. "I think we all need to take a deep breath and figure out a holistic approach to transportation in this state and come back with a plan."

One opponent of making the Triangle Expressway a toll road said he sees the Legislature's rejection of the plan as a fork in the road.

"It'll hopefully bring us back to the table with a more reasonable plan to complete the Outer Loop without tolls," Apex Mayor Keith Weatherly said.

North Carolina must invest in road infrastructure if it expects its cities to compete with other growing metropolitan areas, traffic experts say.

"You've got to continue to make these investments, because other cities aren't stopping," said Joe Millazo, executive director of Raleigh Transportation Alliance.

Supporters of the Interstate 540 extension said they hope something can be worked out before the short session of the General Assembly next May.

Some options floated by state and transportation officials include making all of N.C. 540 a toll road, getting the Department of Transportation to contribute more money or selling the new stretch of the highway to a private turnpike company.

Meanwhile, the cost of the Triangle Expressway is growing at a rate of $3.5 million each month because of inflation, the Turnpike Authority said.