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The gas tax won't hack it, Price says

Nobody was crazy about resorting to toll-collection to build the Triangle Expressway, U.S. Rep. David Price said at Wednesday's ground-breaking ceremony (see story with dozens of reader comments).

But where else will we get the money to build new bridges and expressways?

The federal Highway Trust Fund, fueled mostly with a federal gas tax that has not been increased since 1992, is running on fumes. Congress recently approved an $8 billion bailout to make sure North Carolina and other states would get the federal road dollars promised for this fall.

“We have in the past relied on one source of revenue almost exclusively for our highway building, namely the gas tax revenue,” Price said. “It has funded highway construction, safety programs and a lot of other thngs for many, many years. …

“Now, that’s not even an option. Now the gas tax revenues simply aren’t going to do the job.”

You know the story. Our cars aren't guzzling so much gas these days, so we're paying fewer gas tax pennies per mile. ...

Ready to pay tolls for a faster commute to RTP?

North Carolina broke ground today on its first modern toll road, and you can be sure it won't be the last.

The 18.8-mile Triangle Expressway is expected to open for business -- with customers paying their tolls electronically -- by the end of 2011 on the Triangle Parkway section that will extend the Durham Freeway south through RTP to NC 540. The rest of it, extending 540 south to the NC 55 bypass at Holly Springs, will open by the end of 2012.

Are you willing to pay a toll if TriEx can save you up to 20 minutes on your rush-hour trip to work? Let me hear from you today by phone (919-829-4527) or e-mail. Don't forget your name and daytime contact info.

Nobody's crazy about paying tolls, but where else will we find the money for new and wider freeways?

The Chevy Volt will get 230 miles to the gallon. That doesn't sound like a lot of gas tax money.


TriEx groundbreaking set for 10 a.m. Wednesday

Ready or not, here they come.

The N.C. Turnpike Authority will hold a groundbreaking ceremony at 10 a.m. Wednesday for the state's first modern toll road, the $1 billion, 18.8-mile Triangle Expressway.

The event takes place at the end of N.C. 540 (interchange with N.C. 55) just south of Research Triangle Park. TriEx will extend 540 south from N.C. 55 to the N.C. 55 bypass at Holly Springs. That part of toll road is to be open for business by January 2013.

The other part of TriEx, called Triangle Parkway, extending N.C. 147 south through RTP to NC 540, is to be open to traffic by January 2012.

To attend the groundbreaking, take NC 540 southwest from I-40, and drive until it ends. Don't take the final exit 66A for eastbound N.C. 55. Instead, look for attendants who will tell you where to park.

Turnpike Authority signs contracts to build Triangle Expressway

Minutes after depositing $1.01 billion in borrowed funds at 11:45 a.m. Wednesday, the N.C. Turnpike Authority began spending the money to launch construction of the state's first modern toll road, the Triangle Expressway.

David W. Joyner, the agency's executive director, signed construction contracts pledging $584 million to companies that will start work right away on the six-lane, 18.8-mile TriEx in western Wake and southern Durham counties.

Surveyors will be on the ground Thursday, and earth movers will start rumbling by mid-August. A ground-breaking ceremoney is planned for Aug. 12 at the end of the 540 Outer Loop, at N.C. 55 south of Research Triangle Park.

Landowners will be receiving offers for 525 acres needed to finish the project, a combined value estimated at $230 million. The turnpike authority wants to take title to most of the land within the next six months.

Traffic is expected to start moving, and paying tolls electronically, on the Triangle Parkway portion through Research Triangle Park by January 2012. The Western Wake Freeway portion from RTP to Holly Springs is expected to open by January 2013.


Relatively good news: we'll pay tolls on TriEx for (only) 32 years

The N.C. Turnpike Authority sold $624 million in bonds Monday and Tuesday to complete its financing for the state’s first modern toll road, which is expected to start construction by early August in the center of the Triangle. [Wednesday update: see today's story with reader comments.]

Demand for the bonds was better than expected, creating more favorable terms that will let the turnpike agency pay off its debt – and quit collecting tolls on the 18.8-mile Triangle Expressway – several years sooner than originally planned.

The $624 million bonds will carry a term of 30 years, instead of a 39-year repayment schedule that had been planned. A federal loan of $386 million, approved last week to finance the rest of the project, is to be repaid in 32 years.

“It was far better than our expectations,” said David W. Joyner, the turnpike authority’s executive director. “We actually saved some money because of the strong offering.” ...

Federal loan will help build Triangle Expressway

The U.S. Department of Transportation has approved a $386 million loan to help the N.C. Turnpike Authority finance construction of the $1 billion, 18.8-mile Triangle Expressway, a toll road through Research Triangle Park and western Wake County.

"This project will go a long way toward serving the travel needs of commuters in key educational and employment centers in this important region," Ray LaHood, the U.S. transportation secretary, said in a press release.

The turnpike authority expects to sell $615 million in bonds to raise the rest of the money, which would be repaid from toll collections. Construction is expected to begin in early August.

Start building $1 billion TriEx in late May? Maybe.

Things are looking good, so far, for the N.C. Turnpike Authority's effort to sell Wall Street on its new plan to finance the state's first modern toll road, the 18.8-mile Triangle Expressway in Research Triangle Park and western Wake County.

The TriEx would be the biggest single road-building project in state history, employing a few thousand workers.

The turnpike agency wants to borrow about $1 billion so it can buy up the real estate it needs and award about $584 million in construction contracts to get going.

So far, the authority is staying on its timetable to negotiate a series of approvals needed from a string of bond rating and insurance agencies, state regulators, a federal lender, and Wall Street bond traders.

If everything stays on schedule, the financing deals and construction contracts could be signed by the last week of May, Grady Rankin, the turnpike authority's chief financial officer, told the turnpike board today.

The final right-of-way purchases would move ahead quickly, and bulldozers would start rolling, said Steve DeWitt, the turnpike authority's chief engineer.

"You're going to see equipment showing up there" after the contracts are signed, DeWitt said. "You'll see clearing happening very, very rapidly. It won't take six months. It will be happening almost immediately." ... [MORE]

Basnight backtracks on start-up money for turnpikes

Marc Basnight, the state Senate leader, wants to backtrack on the General Assembly’s pledge to phase out an unpopular transfer that takes $172 million each year from the state Highway Trust Fund and moves it to the General Fund, which pays for non-transportation needs.

Monroe Connector - BypassIf the legislature agrees with Basnight, the change will delay start-up plans for new turnpike projects worth $1.4 billion in Union and Currituck counties.

The General Assembly agreed in 2008 to start phasing out the yearly transfer of $172 million in transportation tax revenues from the Highway Trust Fund to the General Fund. Instead, legislators said, some of that money should be diverted each year to the N.C. Turnpike Authority.

The $172 million figure was reduced to $147 million a year starting this year. It was scheduled to be cut further to $113 million in fiscal year 2010, and to $99 million in 2011.

Mark Johnson of the McClatchy capital bureau reports that Basnight said today he did not see how the General Assembly could stick with its plan to reduce the transfer further in 2010.

“That would be difficult to make happen,” Basnight said. “To take money from the General Fund in reality is like taking money from education and the creation of jobs.”

But those planned turnpike projects would create a lot of jobs, too. . . . [MORE]

If Wall Street would settle down, NC could get moving on Triangle Expressway

NC Turnpike AuthorityFolks at the N.C. Turnpike Authority are still hoping Wall Street will settle down in the next couple of weeks so they can borrow $1 billion to start construction this winter on the 18.8-mile Triangle Expressway.

So are hundreds of people who could get jobs building the new toll road in Western Wake and Research Triangle Park. Not to mention thousands of Triangle commuters who could start using TriEx as soon as the end of 2010.

“There’s no denying that the credit windows are closed on bond issues right now, and nobody knows exactly what’s going to happen or when,” Joyner said today. . . .

So, may we borrow that $1 billion now?

NC Turnpike AuthorityDavid Joyner hopes everybody in Wall Street and Washington will calm down in the next couple of weeks, before he tries to borrow $1 billion from them.

Joyner, the executive director of the N.C. Turnpike Authority, needs to get the money in October so he can break ground in December on the 18.8-mile Triangle Expressway in Research Triangle Park and western Wake County. ...

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