Legislators and bureaucrats in Raleigh are blowing through funds like a drunken sailor on an extended shore leave. Instead of tightening their belts and trying to control costs, the powers-that-be have found yet another way to squeeze extra dollars out of North Carolina’s weary, economically-distressed residents: tolls on I-95.
Recently, in Fayetteville, some area businesses gathered to explain how the proposed tolls will impact them AND their customers:
North Carolinians could end up paying for tolls on Interstate 95 even if they don’t use it, several people attending a public hearing on the issue Monday said.
The state Department of Transportation has proposed adding tolls to the interstate to pay for widening and improvements. An informal public hearing Monday was the last scheduled on the issue.
Kristine O’Connor, a DOT project manager, said comments during the series of seven public hearings have been fairly balanced.
Most people want to know how they will be affected, she said.
“Some are concerned,” she said. “Some see the need.”
State DOT officials estimate that without tolls, paying the $4.4 billion needed to improve I-95 would take about 60 years. The DOT plan calls for widening the interstate to at least six lanes all the way through the state, with another two lanes added from the southern Cumberland County line north to the I-40 interchange near Benson.
Dozens of people looked at maps and asked DOT officials pointed questions during the hearing Monday.
While some people are concerned about having the tolls themselves, several said the hidden cost might be the toll they take on businesses.
State Rep. Elmer Floyd, who said he was at the hearing to gather information, said he talked to the head of a local trucking company with 125 trucks. The businessman estimated the tolls could cost his company as much as $2million a year.
Floyd said he is concerned about the amount of tolls that would be paid by Walmart, which has more than 400 trucks running from its distribution center in Hope Mills, and other local and regional companies.
“That cost is going to be passed on to the consumer,” he said. “At the end of the day, the consumer is going to pay.”
Keith McFadyen, who was at the hearing for concrete maker Fay Block, said the trucking industry affects everything.
“It’s going to end up being passed on to everyone in North Carolina,” he said.
McFadyen said Fay Block trucks deliver building materials from the South Carolina line to north of Raleigh.
“We have trucks that travel I-95 every day,” he said.
McFadyen said he thinks North Carolina had the money for the improvements, but state officials chose to spend the funds in other parts of the state.
“In my opinion, we’re paying our fair share,” he said.
Floyd said the state should consider spreading out the devices which collect the tolls. The current plan calls for the devices about every 20 miles. Someone traveling all the way through the state would pay about $20.
The tolls could end up costing some people as much as $1,200 a year, Floyd said. Rather than paying, some people will chose to take U.S. 301, which generally runs parallel to I-95.
“It might take a few minutes more, but when you’re talking about a poor person, $1,200 a year is a lot of money,” he said.