Drivers one day might be asked to pay tolls on the northern 540 Outer Loop after all — but not, as some folks in southern Wake County propose, to help build the loop’s southern arc.
A new $13.4 billion long-range transportation plan for the Wake area, approved Wednesday evening, says toll collections are the most likely funding source for extra lanes that will be needed on 540 to reduce congestion levels expected a decade from now. (See story with comments.)
The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s plan for the next quarter century also calls for other freeway improvements and a big push for public transportation, with more than 100 new buses on the roads, 34 miles of rush-hour commuter train service, and 26 miles of electric-powered light rail.
“I want to say how exciting it is that we’re voting on a plan that has so much transit in it,” Nina Szlosberg of Raleigh, a member of the state Board of Transportation, said Wednesday evening after the unanimous vote by CAMPO's board. “And it’s exciting to hear people saying they want even more transit, not less.”
CAMPO’s 2035 Long-Range Transportation Plan calls on the N.C. Turnpike Authority to complete the southern half of the 540 loop as a toll road by 2025. The turnpike agency hopes to start construction this year on the first 18-mile portion of the loop in southwestern Wake.
Some western and southern Wake residents have protested the toll plan and have argued that drivers on the northern loop, financed with tax dollars, also should pay tolls to help finish 540.
State and local leaders have resisted that proposal. But Ed Johnson, CAMPO executive director, said tolls might offer the only available funds to widen the northern loop itself. Steady population and traffic growth in the coming decade are expected to clog the northern loop between I-40 and U.S. 1, he said.
“Ten years from now, you’ll be seeing congestion on it that will be similar to what you’re seeing on Interstate 40 today,” Johnson said in an interview. “We don’t have any other way to do this. Tolls are the only way it’s going to get done.”
The long-range plan for road, transit, bicycle and pedestrian improvements relies on new funds to help pay for everything. In addition to current state and federal revenues, there are provisions for tolls, higher auto registration fees, and a half-cent sales tax to fund transit improvements.
Several Triangle legislators are among sponsors this year of legislation that would authorize county commissioners in the Triangle to levy a transit sales tax if local voters approve it in a referendum.
Here are more highlights from the plan.
- Operate electric-powered light rail from Triangle Town Center in North Raleigh through downtown Raleigh and Cary to Research Triangle Park, where it would join a light rail line from Chapel Hill and Durham.
- Start rush-hour commuter trains from downtown Raleigh to Wake Forest and to Selma.
- Widen I-40 from the Beltline east to N.C. 42.
- Widen I-440 from U.S. 1/64 to Wade Avenue.
- Widen U.S. 64 from Wendell to Nash County.
- Add HOT (high-occupancy / toll) lanes to I-40 from RTP to Wade Avenue, for carpools and buses, and for solo drivers willing to pay a toll.
- Widen U.S. 401 south from U.S. 70 to Fuquay-Varina.
- Widen I-40 south from N.C. 42.
- Widen N.C. 50 north from the 540 Loop to Creedmoor.
- Widen U.S. 1 north from the 540 Loop, and make part of it an eight-lane freeway.