Tolls coming to North Carolina highways

WAKE COUNTY After six years of planning and a billion dollars in loans, it all comes down to 18 miles of highway.

Soon the only way to ride it will be to pay a toll. The toll equipment will be tested for the first time in Wake County next April at NC-55 and I-540.

Wake County's newest highways are now under construction in two sections -- the Triangle Parkway runs from the Durham Freeway across I-40 down to I-540. It will open next December ahead of schedule and under budget, while the Western Wake section extends from 540 to Holly Springs at NC-55 is opening in 2012.

Once it's open there's no stopping along the way, drivers with an account can clock their miles with a dashboard transponder. Otherwise, they'll be billed after sophisticated cameras take a snapshot of their license plate.

"There are no free roads, I wish there were, but there are not," said NC Turnpike Authority Director David Joyner. "The problem is we're just not making enough money from the federal gas tax from the state gas tax to maintain and build new highways."

The toll road may cost money, but officials say they promise it'll save drivers time -- shaving at least 20 minutes off their morning and evening commutes.

"That works out to be an entire week back in your life, every year," Joyner said.

There are already plans to extend the toll into southeast Wake County years from now connecting the 540 Triangle Expressway to I-40 and the Knightdale bypass.

However, alternate corridors for the road could put some longtime neighborhoods in jeopardy.

"We know that there are a lot of people upset about that and we wish we didn't have to do that but we do, federal law requires it," Joyner said. "We have to go through that process."

Meanwhile for now, there's no serious talk of making people in north east Raleigh pay to ride I-540.

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