TriEx on the go in Raleigh NC, FHWA boss says tolls good

August 14, 2009

Rarely do grown men look as ridiculous in public as when dressed in suits and ties, name plates on their lapels, they don hardhats and stand in a line along some artificial mound of freshly dug soil with glitzily painted shovels to throw a ritual shovelful in a "groundbreaking ceremony." But the ole boys some call 'dignitaries' did it again this week, Aug 12. This was to ceremonialize the serious business of beginning work on the Triangle Expressway, the first toll road in the modern era in North Carolina.

The 'TriEx' as they abbreviate the new pike's name is likely the first of a number of toll funded projects in this substantial and rapidly growing state (it recently passed New Jersey in population).

They said the 30km, 18.8mi, 2x3 lane TriEx at $1.01b is the most expensive public works job in the history of North Carolina. Connected to a partial belt route, I-540  and to spinal I-40 at its northern end the TriEx will cater to major north-south movement along the western fringe of the 2m pop metro area often called the Triangle.

Officials said that the tollroad will cut travel times by up to 20 minutes for the full trip. The new pike will be all-electronic, no cash collected. The Parkway portion is due to open in 2011 and the Western Wake portion in 2012.

July 29 the North Carolina Turnpike Authority closed on $270m in toll revenue bonds, $353m in state backed bonds and $387m in federal TIFIA lending to raise the $1.01b needed for the project. There were three contracts ready for the construction.

An interesting toll system procurement is under way.

Speeches made at the ceremonies included these points:

NCDOT Secretary and Turnpike Authority Board Chair Gene Conti: "Today marks a new era in transportation in North Carolina. With dwindling transportation revenues and more fuel efficient vehicles, the state needed another tool in its tool box to deliver megaprojects like the Triangle Expressway. By the community choosing to toll the Expressway, we will be able to deliver this project decades sooner."

Conti said toll financing makes sense in areas of high congestion and in recreational/vacation areas where people "have the ability to pay."

David Joyner, Turnpike executive director: "I can't think of a more appropriate place to launch this innovative form of transportation delivery than Research Triangle Park. The Authority has been working with local, state and federal officials on a toll-backed financing program for four years. I commend the dozens of organizations and individuals who have labored so tirelessly to move this project from a study on a shelf to construction in such a short time."

David Price local US Rep: "We have in the past relied on one source of revenue almost exclusively for our highway building, namely the gas tax revenue...Now, that's not even an option. Now the gas tax revenues simply aren't going to do the job. We're going to have a tremendous challenge at the federal level as the reauthorization goes forward to figure out what the revenue sources are going to look like, and how we're going to fund transportation in this country."

FHWA administrator Mendes says toll financing keeps taxes down

Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendes spoke and also had encouraging words for toll financing on the department's Fastlane website:

"With gas and tax revenues declining and North Carolina's population exploding, North Carolina will fall billions short of the revenue needed for roads, bridges and transit over the next 25 years.  So the state has had no choice but to search for alternative financing...

"Financing new projects with toll-backed securities allows bonds to be issued to finance new transportation infrastructure decades sooner than otherwise possible.  Toll financing is based on user fees and requires no increase in taxes and actually frees existing resources for use on other transportation projects. The folks who pay for the road are the folks who use the road."

Thanks to JR Fenske, NCTA for the pictures. She bears no responsibility for the captions.

TOLLROADSnews 2009-08-13

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