Hundreds of Triangle commuters have put down deposits and snapped up N.C. Quick Pass windshield transponders so they'll be ready in January to pay their way on the state's first modern toll road.
The N.C. Turnpike Authority will collect tolls electronically on the Triangle Parkway, an extension of the Durham Freeway under construction in Research Triangle Park. There will be no cash tollbooths.
Drivers can pay $5 for a sticker transponder to use on North Carolina toll roads, or $20 for a device - a bit larger than a smartphone - that eventually will work in other states as well. Toll rates are higher for cars without transponders.
The N.C. Turnpike Authority began marketing the N.C. Quick Pass in mid-October, hoping to sell 2,000 of them by June. By Thursday, drivers had bought 1,793 transponders.
"We're thrilled," said David Joyner, the turnpike authority director. "It's our first toll road, and we were just not sure what public reaction was going to be."
Each car owner sets up an account with the turnpike authority, buys a transponder and deposits $20. Tolls will be deducted after each trip. The customer will replenish the account - usually with an automatic credit-card payment - when the balance falls below a certain level.
That's how Brandon Perkins paid for campus meals when he was a college student, and how he pays for coffee now with his Caribou and Starbucks cards. He doesn't work in RTP and doesn't know how often he'll drive the Triangle Parkway, but he bought his N.C. Quick Pass the first day it was available.
"I'm a bit of an early adopter and, yes, being one of the first to have one is cool," said Perkins, 34, of Raleigh, a software quality assurance engineer for Red Hat.
Triangle Parkway will be free for the first couple of weeks after it opens in mid-December. Toll collection starts Jan. 3. The road is part of the 18.8-mile Triangle Expressway, which will extend the N.C. 540 Outer Loop through western Wake County from RTP to Holly Springs.
In August, the turnpike authority plans to collect tolls on an existing two-mile stretch of 540 between N.C. 54 and N.C. 55, and on a new section south from N.C. 55 to U.S. 64 in Apex.
The last leg to Holly Springs is to open for business in December 2012.
North Carolina is moving forward on five other toll road and bridge projects across the state, and Perkins thinks that's a good idea. Paying user fees will encourage drivers to cut back on wasteful driving, he said.
But Linda Piccola, who lives near Apex in eastern Chatham County, shares the view of many southern Wake residents who are unhappy about the prospect of paying tolls on the 540 Outer Loop - which was built toll-free in northern Wake.
"I'm happy for the improvements, but if you're going to toll the road, toll the whole thing," said Piccola, 53. "It's unfairly hitting those of us who live on the west side of Raleigh."
Still, she's ready to pay. Members of Piccola's family drive 540 every weekday from N.C. 55 toward Interstate 40 and Raleigh, where two of her children attend Cardinal Gibbons High School.
They have five Quick Pass stickers for their five cars.
"By buying the transponder and paying early, you pay less," Piccola said. "We discussed this as a family and said we really don't want to change our route when they start collecting tolls."