View NC tolls for I-95 in a larger map
In a unanimous vote Thursday, the House agreed to let the state collect tolls to help pay for the addition of new lanes on I-95 and other interstate highways -- but only if drivers retain the option to drive toll-free in the old lanes.
Eastern North Carolina political leaders and residents of the eight I-95 counties have opposed a state Department of Transportation proposal to collect tolls on both new and old lanes to finance a $4.4 billion widening and overhaul for I-95. The aging interstate would be expanded from four to eight lanes on the busiest 50 miles between I-40 in Johnston County and St. Pauls in Robeson County, and six lanes on the remainder of its 182 miles between the South Carolina and Virginia borders. Under the original proposal, drivers would begin paying tolls in all lanes before the project is finished.
If the Senate agrees with the House approach, DOT will have to adjust its plans.
"If they decide they want to toll any lanes on interstates that exist in North Carolina, they can only do that if they build new lanes," said Rep. Jeff Collins, a Rocky Mount Republican who sponsored the bill. "They can't toll the current lanes now in anticipation of building new non-toll lanes later. They can't build a toll lane unless they keep they same number of non-toll lanes that were in existence before they built those toll lanes."
Rep. Elmer Floyd, a Fayetteville Democrat, said the legislation will be welcome news for local residents and trucking companies that depend on I-95.
"This bill will help the poorest portion of our state," Floyd said.
Collins said DOT officials have spoken tentatively of adding the new lanes and giving them higher speed limits, as an incentive to out-of-state drivers who might be willing to pay the toll.
"There might be a 10 mph advantage to paying the toll, or something like that, if you wanted to fly through our state," Collins said. "People in my area can go up and down I-95 without paying a toll."