WASHINGTON, D.C. — The state Department of Transportation is going to have a rough road to travel to implement tolling on Interstate 95 as a way of paying North Carolina’s share of an estimated $4.4 billion in new construction and improvements to the major north-south highway, according to U.S. Rep. Mike McIntyre.
The Lumberton Democrat said last week that North Carolina’s congressional delegation is joining together in an effort to halt federal approval of the state’s request to toll the interstate.
“We’re getting bi-partisan support in the North Carolina delegation to stop plans to toll I-95,” McIntyre said.
McIntyre told The Robesonian on Wednesday morning he had signed on as a co-sponsor to a bill recently introduced by U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers, who represents the state’s 2nd District, that asks the Congress to block plans by the state DOT to charge tolls on I-95. Ellmers has also called for an economic study of the impact tolls would have on communities along the I-95 corridor.
Using tolls to pay for widening and making improvements to the 182 miles of I-95 that runs through North Carolina from South Carolina to Virginia is recommended in a state-commissioned study — the I-95 Corridor Planning and Finance Study — as the best way to pay for the project in the most feasible amount of time. The state is responsible for 10 percent of the funding, or $440 million.
The Federal Highway Administration has already given conditional approval for tolls on North Carolina’s section of I-95. State DOT officials have said that permission has to be granted from the federal government before tolls can be implemented on an existing highway.
“This is not the time, the place and the way to fund our highways,” McIntyre said. “I do not support tolls on I-95. It would be a burden on citizens, families and businesses, especially when the economy is in fragile recovery. North Carolina already has the highest gas tax in the Southeast, and unfortunately the sixth highest in the country.”
McIntyre said tolls on I-95 would result as an “unfair tax,” especially on North Carolinians in the southeast region of the state.
“Our state should be able to use existing revenues to fund maintenance and improvements to I-95. This was done with other major interstate highways in North Carolina without toll booths,” he said. “Charlotte, Winston-Salem and Greensboro all have had interstates widened and improved without the necessity of toll booths. It is patently unfair to place toll booths on a major interstate that serves our region of the state when it has not been done for similar major interstate improvements in other parts of the state.”
According to McIntyre, the state needs to better manage the use of its gasoline tax revenues.
“Our state should make sure that revenues generated by the state gas tax are used to fund improvements to our highway infrastructure,” he said. “In the past, some of these funds have been used to balance state budgets by paying for other programs not related to transportation.”
As proposed in the state-commissioned study, there would be two toll sites in Robeson County. Overall, there would be nine sites located along North Carolina’s section of I-95. Those traveling the entire length of North Carolina’s section of the interstate would pay about $20 in tolls.
The state study is calling for construction of Phase 1 — a 61-mile stretch of the interstate from mile-marker 20 in Lumberton to mile-marker 81 at the U.S. 40/I-95 interchange in Johnston County — to begin in 2016 and end sometime in 2019. The work would include widening 50 miles from mile-marker 31 to 81 to eight lanes, with the remaining sections being widened to six lanes.
According to the study, Phase 2 would get underway after the first phase is complete, with electronic tolling beginning along the entire stretch of North Carolina’s part of the interstate beginning at the completion of Phase 1.
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or email@example.com.