NC/I-95 tolling has potential $300m to $350m annual toll revenues
By Peter Samuel
North Carolina DOT has a major I-95 planning & finance study under way that will provide much more solid estimates but our back-of-the-envelop calculations suggest the state should on opening be able to get in the range $300m to $350m/year in annual revenue from the planned tolling of I-95. As the economy grows, toll revenue on NC/I-95 would also grow.
The highway 182 miles, 293km long, an important link between the mid-Atlantic and the southeast, is basically a 1950s style expressway that needs a near-complete rebuild, and substantial third laning. A majority of the traffic passes right through the state, a mix of tourist traffic on the way to and from southern beaches and Florida, and long-distance north-south trucking. The road was located in North Carolina to match I-95 in Virginia to the north and in South Carolina to the south, and it passes through no substantial North Carolina urban areas.
Traffic volumes (AADT) are around 41k , ranging between a low in some segments of 29k and a high of 50k. Truck traffic averaging 4.3k is just over 10% of the total. The traffic volumes don't look very high but trips are long, especially by trucks. Vehicle-miles traveled are 2710m/year, 420m of them or 15.5% being truck VMT.
NC/I-95 has about half the traffic of NC/I-85, and NC/I-40 - highways serving large local and intrastate traffic - but these have already been heavily rebuilt and improved.
There is no powerful local constituency for using North Carolina taxpayer money on NC/I-95, so toll financing is a major focus of the planning and finance study. The study being carried out for NCDOT by Baker Engineering and PBS&J has been under way for about six months and is due for completion by the fall of 2011. The study budget is $6.4m.
- evaluate the condition of the existing highway in some detail
- develop forecasts of likely future traffic and revenues from tolls
- conduct extensive public outreach all along the corridor
- develop specific improvement plans
- set priorities in a rebuild implementation plan
NCDOT say on their website: "This study will create a blueprint for the future of I-95 in North Carolina. It will determine the road's needs, define and prioritize necessary improvements, and identify ways to fund these improvements."
They suggest tolling would probably be full highway speed - all-electronic. That would be consistent with other tollroads being built and planned in the state.
Greer Beaty, director of communications at the department told us the study is a major priority of the state administration and they hope to have a detailed proposal for the legislature and the feds coming out of the study.
Unlike PA/I-80 there is no talk in North Carolina to tap I-95 tolls for use elsewhere in the state. Tolls would be used within the corridor - consistent with federal law on tolling of interstates.
Our revenue estimates
Our estimate of possible toll revenues takes 2008 traffic as a baseline: 2290m car VMT and 420m truck VMT.
We look at stay factors for cars of 0.75 as a low and 0.9 as a high meaning that car traffic could be reduced by tolls by as much as 25% or as little as 10%. US301 is the major competitor - a 2-lane rural arterial. Its ability to attract car traffic away from tolls would be greater for cars than for trucks - because there are many more short car trips.
For trucks we assumed a likely high stay factor of 0.95 and a low stay factor of 0.9, meaning that diversion of trucks might be as highs 10% or as low as 5%.
Then we took the existing toll rates of the Pennsylvania Turnpike mainline (I-76) about 9c/mile or 5c/km for cars and 44c/mile, 27c/km for trucks and applied those to the VMTs using the high and low stay factors, giving opening year revenue as $313m assuming the largest diversion (10% of trucks and 25% of cars diverting) and $352m with 95% of trucks staying and 90% of cars.
NCDOT outreach website