As proposed, tolls would be charged at mile marker 12 near U.S. 74, and between mile marker 28 and 31 at St. Pauls. Overall there would be nine toll locations along the 182-mile stretch of I-95 running through North Carolina from South Carolina to Virginia, meaning a motorist traveling the entire stretch would be charged almost $20.
In addition to the Robeson County sites, toll locations likely to have the most impact on local northbound travelers would be located at mile marker 51, in Fayetteville, and mile marker 68, the last tolling site before the U.S. 40/I-95 interchange in Johnston County is reached.
Tolls are also proposed for mile markers 88, 110, 131, 148 and 169.
The proposal passed a major hurdle on Friday when the Federal Highway Administration gave conditional approval to the project.
Like many of Robeson County residents who often use Interstate 95, Brion Oxendine, owner of Heritage Realty in Lumberton, isn’t looking forward to tolls being implemented along the highway.
“If the economy and gas prices stay the way they are, people are going to cut down on unneeded driving,” Oxendine, who travels the interstate regularly north to Fayetteville and south to the Fairmont and Rowland areas, said. “It’s sure to have an effect on everything from local businesses to real estate values. Because people will spend more on travel, they will have to budget in other areas.”
Tolling the entire 182 miles of I-95 that runs through North Carolina from South Carolina to Virginia is recommended in a state-commissioned report as the most viable way of paying for $4.4 billion in road improvements to the interstate. Electronic tolling, according to the report, would begin sometime in 2019.
Those traveling the entire stretch of North Carolina’s section of I-95 would pay about $19.20 in tolls. Travelers would pay the most in tolls, about 19.2 cents a mile, on a 61-mile stretch of the highway from mile marker 20 in Robeson County to mile marker 81 at the U.S. 40/I-95 interchange. The cost of traveling the other 121 miles of I-95 through North Carolina would come to about 6.4 cents a mile.
Those traveling from Robeson County to the Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill area could expect tolls to be about $5 each way.
Mickey Gregory, the executive director of the Lumberton Visitors Bureau, said that during the time of construction and improvements to the interstate re-routing of traffic would be a concern.
“Any time re-routing occurs there is disruption,” she said. “Already a lot of people use 301 to get out of existing congestion on 95.”
According to Department of Transportation officials, the improvements and new construction would be done in a manner to least disrupt safe travel throughout the area. They also note that plans call for the tolling locations to be about 20 miles apart, allowing for some of the interstate to be traveled free depending on where a vehicle enters and exits the highway.
To Oxendine, the toll areas — to be placed about 20 miles apart — are located too close together, causing a financial burden to those local residents who have to regularly travel the interstate.
“This is not good for the locals,” he said. “There should be toll booths just at the South Carolina and Virginia borders.”
Gregory said there is concern among many business owners along the interstate about how the tolling will affect them.
“There are people who look at the cost and think it will hurt business,” she said. “But I don’t know for sure how everything will be affected.”
Bo Biggs, a local businessman, is strongly against tolls.
“I hate tolls,” he said. “But I’m trying to be receptive to DOT’s arguments for tolls.”
Biggs said that tolls will hurt people who must travel the interstate to get around Robeson County.
“What about the guy in Lumberton who has a business cutting grass in Rowland?” he said. “It’s going to cost him.”
Biggs also said that many people in the area have a difficulty understanding the state’s high gas tax and other taxes that are supposed to fund highway construction and maintenance don’t preclude the need for tolls.
“Currently, the state cannot move to add tolling to an existing highway. According to Kristine O’Connor, who is managing the I-95 project for DOT, the state has applied to the federal government to participate in a pilot program that would allow tolls to be collected on I-95. She said the state should find out soon if it can participate in the program.
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or firstname.lastname@example.org.