If any eastern North Carolina commercial real estate brokers haven't yet gotten the message, perhaps they should have their licenses yanked for dozing on duty.
What message? U.S. 301, baby!
Now my own real estate license isn't worth a hoot, mainly because it doesn't exist. But it's pretty obvious that when and if North Carolina slaps tolls on I-95, so the full traverse through Tarheelia costs $20 or thereabouts, good old U.S. 301 is destined to become real popular. Again.
It might even echo the pre-interstate days, when south of Richmond this was the highway of choice for Florida-bound New Yorkers and the rest of their Northeastern tribe.
OK, there's a touch of fantasy here. Darn few folks trying to cram an over-the-road trip to Disney World into an always-too-brief vacation, or long-haul truckers for whom time is such a valuable currency, would choose to slug it out through Rocky Mount, Wilson or Fayetteville.
And to the extent that 301 - which shadows the length of North Carolina's section of 95 - did attract crowds of toll-evaders, its congestion would tend to push folks back onto the high road. Maybe even have them yearning for the privilege of fattening the state's coffers.
We surely wouldn't expect the kindly overlords of Tar Heel highway spending to oblige the toll-shirkers by making 301 wider, smoother, faster.
All that said, the rural stretches of 301, where solitary travelers now cruise the placid two-lane past cotton fields, forests and swamps in their austere beauty, surely would see a traffic upsurge.
In Johnston County, don't you know that Selma's antique dealers are pro-toll? They'd love to see more of the long-distance motorists whom they now try to lure off 95 decide to take the scenic route.
Further north, it's 301 that serves Historic Halifax with its Revolutionary heritage and swings around the edge of Historic Weldon. Yes, that's a marketing slogan but with a ring of truth. Weldon, on the south side of the Roanoke River, is rich in railroad lore and was a terminus of the Wilmington & Weldon, the world's longest rail line when it opened for business in 1840.
Weldon also bills itself as the Rockfish Capital of the World, for the striped bass that come up the Roanoke to spawn. River guides and outfitters already have a presence. The town's tourism potential, were more toll-loathing motorists to use 301, might finally come into its own.
The N.C. DOT sees tolls on 95 as a source of revenue for badly needed upgrades. But it has a challenge on its hands in trying to devise a tolling scheme that 1) maximizes revenue, 2) discourages detours onto 301 and other free roads, and 3) goes easy on local residents who use 95 in their day-to-routines. The goal, naturally, is to wring as much money as possible from out-of-state vacationers and truckers.
As The N&O's Bruce Siceloff explained in a front-page piece the other day, the plan now calls for collecting tolls at 20-mile intervals designed to snag through travelers (using electronic billing systems).
Cheaper tolls would apply to certain shorter trips, and for the shortest - perhaps taken by someone traveling just to the next exit to get to work - use of 95 would be on the house.
How long would it be before southbound drivers caught on that they could leave 95 at Skippers, the last exit in Virginia, and have a scenic, untolled ride down 301 across the state line, through the community of Pleasant Hill and on to Garysburg and Weldon?
How long would it be until Garysburg, a hard-scrabble place indeed at the junction of 301 and U.S. 158, could boast a Hardee's, maybe a Food Lion? Oh, happy day!
As to why North Carolina thinks it has to soak I-95 travelers, rather than funding improvements to the highway from broader-based revenues - well, the fact is that this interstate has a limited Tar Heel constituency.
Jacking up gasoline taxes for everybody, taxes that already are high, to pay for work that chiefly benefits people with strange Northern accents is a course with limited appeal. Even if it might make sense.
It happens that revenue-strapped Virginia also is thinking about I-95 tolls. But no states to our south have tolls on the main East Coast highway. For that matter, neither do Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Rhode Island or Massachusetts.
True enough that if you drive a car straight up I-95 via the New Jersey Turnpike to the Big Apple, you'll pay (according to a handy website) $26.85 in tolls. That includes bridges and tunnels south of New York, but not the $12 it now costs to cross over or under the Hudson, eastbound. (Leaving the city is free!)
Make the Yankees pay for their North Carolina jaunts? If it were only that simple. But those who choose U.S. 301 or other untolled "blue highways," although it takes longer, will gain a closer look at our state's history and character.
Editorial page editor Steve Ford can be reached at 919-820-4512 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.