The Voice of Business, Industry & the Professions Since 1942
North Carolina's largest business group proudly serves as the state chamber of commerce



Toll Roads

One by one the differences have faded between North Carolina and the urban and urbane states of the Northeast. Twenty-five years ago it was liquor by the drink that set us apart. They could have a gin and tonic served by the waiter before dinner while we poured ourselves something out of a brown paper bag. Later it was pro sports that helped define the differences between North Carolina and, say, Massachusetts. They cheered for their teams in the NFL, NBA and NHL and we cheered for their teams, too. Another notable divide was access to high-end retail stores. For years they had Saks, Macy’s and Nordstroms. Now, we have them, too, although Belks still seems to suit us just fine.

This year another significant distinction between North Carolina and the Northeast is about to fall — toll roads. Legislation passed both the state House and Senate last month creating the North Carolina Turnpike Authority and authorizing it, as a first step, to construct two toll roads as pilot projects. One most likely will be the proposed Garden Parkway connecting Gaston and Mecklenburg counties over the Catawba River. There’s less certainty about the second pilot project, although there’s talk about turning stretches of I-95 in Northeastern North Carolina into a toll road, much as I-95 used to be south of Richmond.

As this was written, some minor details had yet to be worked out between slightly differing versions of the enabling legislation passed by the House and Senate, but those were mostly over form, not substance. Everyone around Jones Street regarded final adoption as inevitable.

The preamble to the legislation reads: “The General Assembly finds that the existing state road system is becoming increasingly congested and overburdened with traffic in many areas of the state; that the sharp surge of vehicle miles traveled is overwhelming the state’s ability to build and pay for adequate road improvements; and that an adequate answer to this challenge will require the state to be innovative and utilize several new approaches to transportation improvements in North Carolina. Toll funding of highway construction is feasible in North Carolina and can contribute to addressing the critical transportation needs of the state.”

The Turnpike Authority will be an important new force in North Carolina politics. It will be empowered to issue revenue bonds, condemn land under eminent domain and choose the contractors who will build the new toll roads. A nine-member board of directors will govern the authority — three appointed by the speaker of the House, three by the president pro tem of the Senate and two by the governor. The state secretary of Transportation (who is chosen by the governor) will automatically become the ninth authority board member.

It undoubtedly will feel odd the first time we have to stop at a toll booth somewhere in North Carolina — about as odd as that first mixed drink we had so many years ago. -- Steve Tuttle

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