LUMBERTON — The state Department of Transportation has ordered a new economic analysis of tolling along North Carolina’s stretch of Interstate 95.
The Fayetteville Observer reported this morning that state Transportation Secretary Gene Conti has said that the new analysis will include input from the trucking industry, retailers and other groups that will be affected if a proposal to install tolls along the 182 miles of I-95 from South Carolina to Virginia is implemented. Tolls have been proposed as the most feasible way to pay for $4.5 billion in improvements and widening of the interstate.
The analysis is due next spring and will include more public hearings, the newspaper reported Conti as saying. Conti also reportedly said there is no alternate plan to making needed improvements except to use existing revenues — revenues that total just about $450 million over 10 years.
The state plan for improving the interstate includes widening the highway to eight lanes between mile markers 31 and 81, and making the rest of the highway through North Carolina six lanes. The proposal also includes tolling, which is meeting strong opposition from public officials, the trucking industry, retailers and others that would be affected by paying tolls that would be about $20 to travel the entire length of I-95 in the state.
Using tolls to pay for widening and making improvements is recommended in a state-commissioned study — the I-95 Corridor Planning and Finance Study — as the best way to pay for the $4.5 billion project. The state is responsible for 10 percent of the funding, or $450 million.
The study proposes two toll sites in Robeson County — at mile-marker 12 near U.S. 74, and between mile-markers 28 and 31 at St. Pauls. Overall there would be nine tolling sites located along North Carolina’s section of I-95 .
The proposed construction project would begin in 2016 and take about 10 years to complete.
Opponents of the tolls point to the the burdens of tolling on commercial vehicles and travelers forced to divert to alternate roads to avoid tolls, as well as the lack of alternative funding sources listed in the study to fund the project.
According to the DOT, the economic analysis now under way will examine the economic effects, both positive and negative, of adding lanes on I-95 and paying for them with tolling or utilizing other funding that may exist. It will also examine the economic effect of not adding the lanes or making any significant improvements to the major highway outside what can be funded with existing funding sources.