Toll road construction ahead of schedule

Posted July 29, 2011 5:16 p.m. EDT
Updated July 29, 2011 6:49 p.m. EDT

— North Carolina is months away from opening its first toll road.

Project engineers with the North Carolina Turnpike Authority say the nearly $1 billion project is ahead of schedule and under-budget, in part, because of the dry summer. Crews have not had to deal with weather delays.

The 3.5-mile stretch of N.C. Highway 540 through Research Triangle Park, from Interstate 40 and N.C. Highway 147 to N.C. Highway 540, will open by the end of the year.

Crews have been working 22 hours a day, six days a week, mostly during daylight hours. Concrete paving takes place at night.

"It's just too hot during the day to place concrete," said Jason Peterson, a project manager with the North Carolina Turnpike Authority. "It doesn't react as well. The final product is not as good as if it's cooler."

With three lanes in each direction, nearly half of the project is paved.

The cashless electronic toll sites are also going up. There will be no need to stop or slow down. Antennas will recognize whether drivers have a prepaid transponder on their windshield. Cameras are there as a backup.

"The cameras take a picture of your license plate, front and back, and then we use DMV records to access your vehicle and send you a bill in the mail," Peterson said.

The cost with a transponder will be 15 cents per mile and 24 cents per mile, if the camera is needed.

Whether or not they use it, some drivers say having the toll road makes sense.

"Every pro comes with a con," driver Mike Cline said. "The con is price, the pro is getting to work quicker."

The 12.5-mile second phase from N.C. Highway 55 near Morrisville to N.C. 55 near Holly Springs will be ready by the end of next year.

It's still unclear whether the state will begin tolling the existing portion of N.C. 540 later this year or sometime next year.