Conversations with NCMatters: For whom the road tolls

Question: “Does the NCDOT have a much broader agenda than the public is aware of for converting I-77 and our other state highways and new highway projects to privatized toll lanes?”

That inquiry referred to the role of so-called HOT lanes (High Occupancy Toll lanes) in the state’s Department of Transportation planning. The concept is to charge a toll for access to a limited-access, faster-moving traffic lane in highly congested areas.

NCMatters: In a conversation with Joey Hopkins, deputy division engineer for DOT’s Division 5 (covering the Durham-Raleigh area), only two projects in the state are currently being examined for HOT lane utilization. A congestion study of about 50 miles of I-40 in the Triangle area did look at using the HOT lane concept, and subsequent consideration still includes the potential for a HOT lane or HOV lane (High Occupancy Vehicles carrying a minimum number of passengers, usually two or three).

Charlotte is the only other location actively considering the HOT lane so far – for a portion of its I-77 corridor. That planning is “slightly ahead of us,” Hopkins said of the Triangle’s planning process. Nationally, he referred to three metropolitan areas that have actually established hot lanes—Atlanta, San Francisco and the DC area in Virginia.

According to a current article in Durham’s INDY Week (see “Private Tolling Companies Run Public Roads”), the I-77 HOT lane and other such projects in the future would be managed be a private tolling company. Such public-private financing, Hopkins said, along with other specific toll roads, are tools the agency may use to “stretch dollars” for state transportation needs. Light-rail projects (currently planned for Charlotte and under consideration in the Durham area) and bus transit increases are other items in the agency’s congestion-reduction planning box, he said.

by Nelda Holder, contributing editor


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