Putting tolls on I-95 draws ire from some - WNCN: News, Weather

Putting tolls on I-95 draws ire from some

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SMITHFIELD, N.C. -

A new "Driving 95" study says I-95 needs nearly $4.5 billion to keep running smoothly in North Carolina, but the state has only about a 10th of the money needed to maintain and widen the state's 182 miles of I-95 to keep up with the growth.

"We know that we're in a situation where we don't have the funds, to do all the work that the folks would like us to do, so then the question is here are some alternatives.  How do we do it?" said Roberto Canales of DOT.

It could mean higher taxes and fees, a possibility that is irking some neighbors. A plan to implement tolls through an electronic system, possibly charging rates ranging from 10 to 20 cents a mile starting in 2020.

The idea of tolls on the roads has drawn some opposition. Ernie Brame with the No Tolls I-95 Coalition said,"We believe that every other interstate in North Carolina has been improved, simply through the use of the gas tax, and I-95 should be no different."

Brame, a rest stop owner, said the DOT is trying to punish residents in the rural and largely economically depressed communities lining I-95.

"Over the years, the DOT has ignored the needs to improve and expand I-95 and now, they put a 4.4 billion dollar price tag to it and believe the only way to do it is through tolls," Brame said.

But the highway does need help, and North Carolinians have groaned about Interstate 95 for decades, with brutal traffic and trucks on bumpers as the four-lane road stretches from near Roanoke Rapids in the north to Lumberton in the south.

The road has changed little since it's beginning in 1956 as part of the Eisenhower-era Interstate Highway System. But North Carolina's Department of Transportation is looking to upgrade I-95, including hearing about the possible cost to businesses of charging tolls.

DOT held a public hearing Monday in Smithfield. Others are scheduled for Tuesday in Wilson and next week in Lumberton and Weldon.

Find details on the I-95 meetings here

The agency heard from about 4,000 people when it held meetings in communities along I-95 last year.

DOT says upgrades are needed along the entire 180 miles of I-95 from Virginia to South Carolina that would cost nearly $4.5 billion. The proposals include widening parts of the interstate, raising and rebuilding bridges, and repairing pavement.

I-95 was built between 1956 and 1980, according to the DOT. According to the DOT, somewhere between one third and one half of the pavement on I-95 in North Carolina is rated as "very poor,"  "poor" or "fair."

The DOT says 88 of the 188 bridges over I-95 in North Carolina need to be repaired or replaced.

One concern is how tolls might slow traffic on I-95. There were tolls through Virginia for years. The DOT says it is looking at ways to collect tolls without toll booths.

DOT has proposed charging tolls to make up for a big shortage of available funding.

However, Gov. Pat McCrory said during his campaign that he was opposed to tolls on the highway, according to the Roanoke Rapids Daily Herald. "I do not support that, especially when money for other projects are being floated," the paper quoted him as saying.

McCrory also told The Lumberton Robesonian newspaper he does not support tolls on I-95.

"I do not support tolling I-95," McCrory said in a statement to the paper. "To once and for all take the politics out of transportation infrastructure funding, I will work as governor to develop a long-term transportation and infrastructure plan for the state. We need to create a long-term strategy, which will send a clear signal to the business community of the state's future investment in roads, railroads, bridges, ports, airports and other infrastructure."



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