Toll rate increases postponed as traffic rolls on Triangle Expressway

On the day commuters began using the last six-mile leg of the Triangle Expressway, the N.C. Turnpike Authority agreed to postpone scheduled rate increases for the state’s first modern toll road until July.

bsiceloff@newsobserver.comDecember 20, 2012 

TRIEX2.121912.TI

The last phase of Triangle Expressway is finished and it will open Thursday morning, December 20, 2012. Many commuters have purchased N.C. Quick Pass transponders. Photographed Wednesday, December 19, 2012.

TAKAAKI IWABU — tiwabu@newsobserver.com

— On the day commuters began using the last six-mile leg of the Triangle Expressway, the N.C. Turnpike Authority agreed to postpone scheduled rate increases for the state’s first modern toll road.

Drivers in southern Wake County began taking advantage of a 13-day opportunity to drive toll-free on the new section of TriEx from Holly Springs to Apex, which was opened to traffic early Thursday morning. Electronic toll collection starts Jan. 2.

Drivers already are paying tolls on the first two sections, more than 12 miles from Apex to Research Triangle Park, which opened earlier this year.

The turnpike authority had agreed in 2008 to schedule regular toll rate increases of 5 percent a year for the first several years, with the new rates to take effect each January. But the authority board voted Thursday to make July 1 the date for toll increases each year.

The new yearly schedule will add 5 percent to toll rates each July 1 for the next few years, with percentage increases falling gradually to 2.8 percent unless the turnpike board decides on changes in the future. Since there are no cash toll collections, the rates can be adjusted by as little as a few cents at a time.

Fiscal advisers reported that TriEx toll collections are running around 95 percent of projected levels, with $11 million in revenues expected in the fiscal year that ends next June 30. They agreed that postponing the rate increase would not hurt the agency’s ability to repay the money it borrowed to build the $1.1 billion project.

“We can take comfort in the fact that the revenues are coming in quite nicely on the facility,” said Ed Regan, senior vice president of CDM Smith Inc., a consultant who makes traffic and revenue projections for the turnpike agency.

With traffic counts and toll rates expected to rise in coming years, annual toll collections are projected to reach $56 million in fiscal year 2022 and $106 million in 2032.

The first rate increase in July will apply only to the stretch of TriEx north of U.S. 64 at Apex. Toll rates for the new section from Apex to Holly Springs will remain unchanged until July 2014.

The 18.8-mile, six-lane expressway runs north and south through western Wake County from RTP to the N.C. 55 bypass at Holly Springs. It is forked at the northern end, with one branch ending on N.C. 147 at Interstate 40 and the other on N.C. 540 at N.C. 54.

No traffic counts were available, but the new section was busy at 8 a.m. Thursday. Hundreds of commuters from Holly Springs, Fuquay-Varina and southern Wake tried out the new alternative to the region’s congested main road, N.C. 55.

“It’s really a monumental occasion because we promised this project to the people of this region five years ago,” said David Joyner, executive director of the N.C. Turnpike Authority. “We told them that if they had the courage to go through with this as a toll project – and there was a lot of apprehension at first – we would have it open in five years.

“We’re grateful they took that risk, and we have one of the most technologically advanced projects in the United States as a result.”

When toll collection starts Jan. 2 for the new leg, drivers with transponders will pay $2.64 to drive between Holly Springs and I-40 via N.C. 147 through RTP, or $2.34 between Holly Springs and N.C. 54 via N.C. 540.

Siceloff: 919-829-4527 or blogs.newsobserver.com/crosstown or twitter.com/Road_Worrier/

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