ST. PAULS — St. Pauls on Thursday became the latest municipality in Robeson County to state its opposition to tolling on Interstate 95
With Mayor Gordon Westbrook breaking a tie vote, the Board of Commissioners adopted a resolution opposing tolling as recommended in a state-commissioned study as the best way to pay for widening and making improvements to the 182 miles of I-95 that run through North Carolina from South Carolina to Virginia. The state is responsible for 10 percent of the funding, or $440 million.
Kristine O’Connor, who is managing the project for the state Department of Transportation, was peppered with questions and criticisms of the tolling during Thursday’s meeting. She urged a wait-and-see approach.
“I would say it might be prudent to wait until you see the results of the economic study this year, and that’s what a lot of other groups are doing,” O’Connor said.
O’Connor told the board that the department will begin an assessment in the coming months that will identify economic effects of tolling.
“There’s no decisions being made tomorrow. I may be gray-haired and retired before decisions are made,” she said. “… First, we do the economic study, then we get into more detailed phasing and finance plans.”
Commissioners Sam McAllister, McClure Terry Jr. and Sandra Cain voted to table the resolution until a later date, while Commissioners David Ayers, Ghee Johnson and Jerry Weindel voted against tabling it. Westbrook broke the tie by voting to take action on the resolution immediately.
Immediately afterward, McAllister, Terry and Cain voted against the resolution, while Ayers, Johnson and Weindel voted in favor of it, with Westbrook again breaking the tie, voting to adopt the resolution.
Johnson asked O’Connor about the possibility of a discounted rate for people who travel I-95 locally or frequently, which O’Connor said is a possibility.
Cain inquired about the need for tolling when North Carolina has the third-highest gas tax in the nation. O’Connor said that states with lower gas taxes often have higher income and sales taxes. The state of Georgia, she said, has a lower gas tax than North Carolina but has higher income and sales taxes. She added that North Carolina’s highway user fee is the fourth lowest in the country.
“And, they’ve (Georgia) only got 18,000 miles to maintain,” O’Connor said. “We’ve got 80,000 miles to maintain.”
The first phase of improvements, to begin in 2016 and end sometime in 2019, would be made to a 61-mile stretch of the interstate from mile marker 20 in Robeson County to mile marker 81 at the U.S. 40/I-95 interchange in Johnston County. The work would include widening 50 miles from marker 31 to 81 to eight lanes, with the remaining sections being widened to six lanes.
Also on Thursday, the board:
— Approved the relocation of a single-wide mobile home to North Alford Road.
— Approved the use of the R.E. Hooks Community Center for the St. Pauls Shrinettes spaghetti plate sale on Sept. 7.
— Approved the use of the Hooks Community Center for the National Day of Prayer on May 5.
— Approved the subdivision of several cemetery plots into single plots.