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For whom the interstate tolls

Hat tip to Dave Filpus on seroads for posting this story about a guy in Apex who doesn't want tolls on 540. (As if the website address -- www.notollson540.org -- didn't give it away.)

I can sympathize with the guy. No, it doesn't seem fair on the surface that the new part of 540 that bypasses west Cary and most of Apex would be tolled, and I'd definitely agree with him that there's no reason whatsoever to toll the soon-to-be-completed portion of 540 between I-40 and NC 55. It seems that the turnpike authority's only reason to toll that part of 540 is to have a continuous turnpike that continues onto the southern extension of the Durham Freeway, also planned to be a toll road. The road's done and paid for; why toll it?

The loop to the west of NC 55, however, is another story. There was a speaker at a public hearing last night that said, essentially, that it's not fair for western Wake commuters to pay for the state's raiding of the Highway Trust Fund, the pot of money specifically earmarked to build urban loop roads in just about every major city in North Carolina. Trust Fund money built the first 29 miles of I-540 (from NC 55 to US 64 in Knightdale), but the piggy bank is pretty much empty now courtesy of lawmakers who used it to balance the state budget. I agree there 100%, but that's an issue to take up with the legislature, not NCDOT. They don't control the purse strings, they just have to go with whatever they're given...which ain't much lately.

But the alternative is way, way worse than paying $2 to bypass Apex. Estimates now indicate that if 540 isn't built as a toll road, it won't be built until 2030. That's another twenty-three years down the line, and you can't convince me that people sitting in traffic in 2007 on NC 55 (which still happens, even now that the road's widened all the way up to RTP) would accept that alternative to paying a toll on a faster road. God only knows how much traffic will be on NC 55 in 23 years even with 540 being built; if it isn't built, heaven help those poor commuters.

So yeah, tolls on 540 might not be fair, and they might not be right, but they're a darned bit better than enduring another quarter-century of backups on NC 55 as an alternative. Sometimes the right thing to do isn't the most popular, but I have a feeling that the outcry will be much greater if 540 isn't built and every road in western Wake County turns into a 24-hour-a-day parking lot.

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