Tolls increase (again) on 540 but there's progress in the loop project

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- At least this inflation is both predictable and scheduled.

Tolls on the Triangle Expressway will again go up on Saturday, continuing a New Year's tradition that helps maintain the roadway and pay back the construction bonds.

"Instead of sitting in congestion, yes, you pay a fee, but you're buying time back in your life," Dennis Jernigan, Chief Deputy Engineer at the NC Turnpike Authority, told ABC11. "Who couldn't use more of that?

For NC Quick Pass customers with a transponder, traveling the full length of the 18.8 mile Triangle Expressway will increase 11 cents to $3.71, or approximately three percent. Drivers can get a free NC Quick Pass transponder that can be used on all toll facilities in North Carolina and saves travelers 35% compared to the bill-by-mail rate.

"What we do at the turnpike authority, and with a project like this, is to provide people a travel alternative," Jernigan added.

Ever since the Expressway opening in 2012, tens of millions of drivers would use the highway daily to reduce travel time between RTP, Apex, and everything in between. The Pandemic has made an impact, reducing toll revenues by roughly $10 million per year. Quickpass, however, added 26,000 new customers in 2021 and sold more than 163,000 new transponders.

Complete 540 Progressing

In addition to paying off bonds, toll revenue also covers overall road maintenance including repairs, mowing and winter weather preparation and response.

Perhaps more significantly for drivers, there's also tangible progress of those toll dollars at work on the $2.2 billion Phase 1 of the Complete 540 Project.

"What this does is for motorists traveling from points south and east to the west or vice versa, currently they have to use I-40 into downtown Raleigh - a lot of closely spaced urban interchanges, a lot of congestion, especially during peak hour," Jernigan said. "This will give motorists a chance to bypass that congestion and avoid that rush hour traffic."

Though Phase 2 will complete the full 540 loop around Raleigh, Phase 1 will be a gamechanger as it extends 540 in Apex to I-40 in Garner and the Clayton Bypass at Highway 70. A new turbine-style interchange, moreover, is being installed to allow drivers to maintain speeds at 55 mph on the ramps.

"You're going to have about 200,000 vehicles in this location every day," Jernigan said. "We are moving dirt, building 52 bridges and 33 culverts, we are putting in enough concrete in the culverts out here to put a layer of concrete on a football field 15 to 20 feet thick. We're putting enough steel out here to build a container ship."
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