Point of View

To rebuild I-95 in NC, tap tolls, not taxes

April 23, 2013 



TAKAAKI IWABU — tiwabu@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

Recently I had an occasion to travel over a substantial portion of Interstate 95 in our state. It is heavily congested, mostly from out-of-state traffic and desperately needs a face-lift. The question facing highway planners is not whether this important north-south corridor needs to be rebuilt. The answer is an emphatic yes and soon.

The dilemma is who is going to pay for it and how.

Highway planners estimate it will cost $5 billion, perhaps more, to rebuild the 175 miles of I-95 in North Carolina. To do it on a pay-as-you-go method, planners say it will take 60 years within the state’s current framework for financing major highway construction projects. And obviously the initial cost estimate would more than double from inflation.

That would also require taxpayers from Manteo to Murphy, most of whom never set tire to this road, to share the burden.

Another choice is to dump the project into the lap of the Turnpike Authority, let it sell bonds and pay off the bonds with tolls, which are quite common along the I-95 up north. This notion is not popular among folks who live along the route and have been driving free all these years.

During my recent excursion on I-95, I noticed that most other travelers were not from around here. Among the first 10 vehicles to pass me was only one fellow Tar Heel. The others were from New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Connecticut and Canada. The same pattern existed for the next 50 miles.

During the return trip, it was essentially the same mix, about nine out-of-state cars for every North Carolina vehicle, except on the north-bound trip there were quite a few Florida license plates. Large out-of-state trucks accounted for a third of the traffic.

According to the N.C. Department of Transportation, the average annual count on I-95 is about 40,000 vehicles daily, which adds up to approximately 140 million vehicles each year. A modest toll of $20 per trip for an entire trek across the state would make a huge dent in the cost of rebuilding I-95.

And it would be paid mostly by the folks who use it.

I noticed another thing about those travelers, other than the fact they all traveled faster that I did. There were several Obama/Biden bumper stickers on those cars from Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Maryland and Connecticut. Not a single bumper sticker for that other rich guy, what’s his name.

This brings us to a compelling argument that might register with the regime running state government. Those states from which the multitudes are coming are all blue states. Why should we raise our taxes to build them a highway over which they scoot faster than grain through a goose?

Let them pay. They don’t seem to have a problem with tolls on I-95 in their states.

Charles Heatherly of Clayton is a former deputy state treasurer.

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