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Editorial against tolling NC 540 from a socio-economic viewpoint

Earlier this week, there was an editorial column in the Raleigh News & Observer on the impacts the proposed toll road on lower-income drivers. Written by Julie McClintock, the column is decidedly against the toll highway and suggests that the annual $24 million in gap funding be better served for public transportation projects.

An excerpt from the op/ed:

ALTHOUGH THE TURNPIKE AUTHORITY HAS NOT YET DECIDED on a particular electronic tolling technology, it will probably require users to sign up for an account and obtain a transponder. This imposes several difficulties on low- income and minority drivers.

* First, most electronic tolling systems require either a credit card or bank account just to sign up. Many low-income and minority drivers do not have these. A 2002 study at UNC showed that 45 percent of low-income families in the state do not have credit cards and that 25 percent of all minority families in the nation do not have any bank accounts.

* Second, many toll road transponder accounts require a deposit or sign-up fee, a monthly service fee or automatic recharge fee.

* Third, electronic tolling discourages occasional or emergency use by requiring all potential users to go through the hassle of setting up an account and purchasing a transponder in advance. If a driver does not have a transponder and needs to use the toll road for an emergency, he would be subject to a very high fine.

Will the toll road affect many low-income drivers? You bet. One such group would be the many low-income workers who service office buildings. At U.S. Environmental Protection Agency offices alone, there are more than 300 maintenance and custodial contractors who would fall into this category.
Well, if North Carolina follows the lead of some Northeastern states that have EZPass system some of Ms. McClintock's concerns will be answered.

In New York, Pre-Paid EZPass Transponders can be purchased at local grocery stores, service plazas, or at various NY State Thruway offices. Called E-Z Pass On-The-Go, it is a $25 prepaid transponder that can be registered online or at a NY Thruway office or by mail. This EZPass on the go is also available in Pennsylvania. If the North Carolina Turnpike Authority follows this pre-paid multiple options to register and fund EZ-Pass On-The-Go, this will allow non-credit card holder or those without a checking account greater access to a transponder and the means to pay for it.

In New York, there is not a monthly service or recharge fee. In Pennsylvania, there is a yearly $3 fee and no recharge fee.

There is not a 'fine' to use the toll highway without a transponder, there is a higher toll-rate up to 3x the toll rate, but not a fine.

I do agree with Ms. McClintock that there should be a non-transponder cash toll booth option on the new highway. However, the NCTA sees this as a cost-savings move, and in other states like Texas, cashless toll highways are becoming more common.

Finally, Ms. McClintock closes with:

That body will decide in this year's short session whether to adopt the Turnpike Authority's request for $24 million a year "gap funding" that these toll roads won't cover. That is $24 million a year for 40 years that could be better spent on public transit improvements, such as light rail, recommended by the Special Transportation Advisory Committee. Legislators should do the right thing and put public transit ahead of toll roads.

Now in an area where Public Transportation is pretty much not utilized, and in an area where they can't get a common public transportation system and gameplan together, I'd argue that the $24 million per year over the next 40 years would be better spent improving, expanding, and building the transportation network we need (spread through highways and public options) vs. throwing everything in the boondoggle that can be public transportation.

Comments

John Spafford said…
I too would like to see a cash collection lane. As someone who lives far away from NC, but who occasionally visits (I was there in 2006), I want an option for the occasional out of state visitor.
Anonymous said…
North Carolina should be so lucky to have such a proactive state DOT. I'm so sick of people complaining about how will this affect this and that group. I'll tell you what affects those groups even more--a no build scenario.

This game is played out all the time here in Georgia. We have a statewide toll authority with one 4 mile stretch of toll road. Sure there have been plans to build and implement other toll facilities across the state including Atlanta, but you can't repair a sidewalk in this city without it becoming a socioeconomic or minority issue. The end result: nothing gets done.

According to the NCDOT's website, no toll road is built without a "toll free alternate." Why should the state of North Carolina cow down to people who aren't financially responsible enough to have a bank account? My guess is that if they don't have bank accounts, they can't get car loans either. However, I'm sure some people still manage to, and that's why there are free alternatives.

We should be so lucky in Georgia. I have copies of the last several 25 year plans going back to right after the 1996 Olympics. I even have a copy of the Peachtree and Auburn Corridor design projects released in 1991. Read through these grandiose plans and then take a look around you here in Atlanta, or look at a map--none of it gets done because groups such as the Atlanta Journal Constitution block these wonderful ideas before they can even hatch here. MARTA? No politician in this state would touch that with someone else's ten foot pole. Freeway projects, especially toll routes? Forget those too. We get interchange redesigns and repavings. That's it.

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