RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, NC (WTVD) -- Taking your time to pay for a faster drive is proving quite lucrative for the North Carolina Turnpike Authority, which maintains and manages the Triangle Expressway.
According to DOT officials, charging late-paying customers a $6 processing fee brought in more than $5.2 million in 2017, accounting for 12 percent of all revenue from the TriEx tolls ($44 million in 2017).
"We would really love it if all of our customers would get a NC Quick Pass transponder," Andy Lelewski, Director of Toll Operations, told the ABC11 I-Team. "It allows for them to get a 35 percent discount on tolls, and now those transponders are free."
Even before an assessed late fee, the 17.4 mile Triangle Expressway ranks among the costliest highways in the nation - almost $0.19 per mile. The six-lane highway, first opened in 2011, is also among the costliest projects in North Carolina transportation infrastructure history, at a cost of more than $1 billion.
The tolls, thus, raise the revenue needed to help pay off the bonds sold to pay for the highway and its interchanges. There are also costs for overall maintenance including road repairs, signs, mowing, and winter weather preparation and response.
"Roadway projects are expensive," Lelewski said. "And if we didn't have a toll we wouldn't have the expressway now. We didn't have the funds at the time so it might've been another 10-15 years."
And while costs are rising, so are the number of drivers and number of toll transactions - from 23 million tolls paid in 2012 to 49.45 million in 2017. Data from a 2017 quarterly report also shows a high of 49,000 drivers passing through the NC-540 and NC-147 interchange on an average weekday.