Research Triangle Park commuters will have two toll-free weeks to check out the new Triangle Parkway before the state Turnpike Authority starts charging them for the drive.
The road now under construction through RTP should be ready for traffic by mid-December, turnpike officials told the state Board of Transportation on Wednesday. Toll collection will begin Jan. 3 at 12:01 a.m.
North Carolina's first modern toll road is also the first to be built in the United States without cash collection booths. All tolls will be collected electronically, with a two-tiered rate system.
Drivers who buy electronic transponders and establish debit accounts with the turnpike authority will pay 50 cents for a one-way trip on Triangle Parkway, 3.5 miles from Interstate 40 to N.C. 540, under a rate schedule expected to be approved today by the Turnpike Authority board.
Drivers without transponders will be billed at a higher rate - 77 cents for the same trip - based on photographs of their license numbers. Partial trips will cost less.
Meanwhile, turnpike officials said, construction is running ahead of schedule on the Western Wake Freeway from RTP to Holly Springs, which combines with the Triangle Parkway to form the 18.8-mile Triangle Expressway.
The Western Wake Freeway is expected to be completed in December 2012, but the first section will be open sooner. TriEx also will incorporate an existing section of N.C. 540, which links Triangle Parkway to Western Wake Freeway.
Here are new schedule details announced Wednesday:
Transponder sales and a marketing campaign start in October.
A TriEx 5K race and fun run scheduled on the new road Nov. 20.
Triangle Parkway, a 3.5-mile extension of the Durham Freeway from I-40 to N.C. 540, opens toll-free in mid-December. Tolls start Jan. 3.
Tolls start in August 2012 on the existing 2.8 miles of N.C. 540 from N.C. 54 to N.C. 55.
The Western Wake Freeway, extending the 540 Outer Loop south from N.C. 55, is expected to open its first 7.2 miles to U.S. 64 in August 2012, and toll collection starts then.
The final 5.4 miles, south from U.S. 64 to Holly Springs, opens in December 2012.
Steve DeWitt, the turnpike authority's chief engineer, said the agency had planned to start collecting tolls in January on the existing stretch of N.C. 540.
But he thinks drivers will prefer to postpone that until August, after a new section of 540 has been finished.
"They're going to feel like it makes more sense to them that we start collecting tolls on 540 when a major portion of 540 opens up," DeWitt said in an interview. "So it'll be, 'Yeah, I understand I'm paying now but I'm getting all this,' instead of 'I'm just paying for what was already here.'"