07/21/06 — Consultant: U.S. 70 bypass toll roads not a viable solution

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Consultant: U.S. 70 bypass toll roads not a viable solution

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on July 21, 2006 1:52 PM

CLAYTON -- Turning the proposed Goldsboro, Kinston and Havelock bypasses into toll roads would not be feasible, a consultant for the North Carolina Turnpike Authority told members of the U.S. 70 Corridor Commission on Thursday.

Commission members had considered designating those parts of the corridor as toll roads to speed up construction of the bypasses, which would eliminate many of the stoplights along the four-lane highway.

Whitmel Webb of HNTB North Carolina presented the toll road feasibility study to the group, saying that two of the three bypasses could not be expected to generate any revenue.

Webb said the only section of the highway that could be expected to generate revenue if converted to a toll road would be the proposed Goldsboro bypass, but he added that he doesn't believe it is feasible to designate the Goldsboro link as a toll road.

The Turnpike Authority's executive director, David Joyner, said the authority is limited by law as to which roads it can designate as toll roads. According to state statutes, a toll road must be a new roadway and must have an alternate route that is free to the public. Also, the project must be requested by local residents.

Webb said a successful toll road needs to carry about 50,000 commuters a day within 20 years of its opening to be successful. Even without a toll road, state transportation officials estimate there will only be about 33,000 commuters per day on U.S. 70 in 2031. About 10,000 commuters a day would use the same highway if it was a toll road, analysts said.

The project would cost an estimated $464 million, causing commuters to pay between $2.25 and $3 per toll, Webb said. Although this could create a revenue of $2.5 million annually, he added many people would not travel on the toll road because the cost of the toll would not be worth the amount of time saved in transit.

Constructing the Kinston and Havelock bypasses for the purpose of toll roads would generate a collective debt of about $1.5 million annually, Webb said.

"In summary, unfortunately, Goldsboro generates some revenue, but I don't think tolls are a viable solution for 70," Webb said.

Despite the consultant's findings, Transportation Board member Cam McRae, who represents Division 4 on the board, said commission members should still consider the possibility of using toll roads in the future.

"I'm not ready to give up on it, because I don't think we have another alternative," McRae said.

He said that if the commission could come up with other ways to raise money for highway construction, it would speed up the building of the bypasses.

Todd Delk of Kimley-Horn, the engineering firm hired by Wayne, Craven, Carteret and Lenoir counties to advise the commission on how to best convert the current U.S. 70 to a freeway standards, said counties along the corridor could consider selling Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle bonds, local option sales taxes and tax increment financing to generate construction money.

The Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle, or GARVEE, bonds is a way for local governments to leverage federal funds expected to be distributed in the future. Any bond sold would be paid back by the grant funds when they are received, Delk said.

Other options could be sales tax revenues, vehicle registration revenues or taxes on vehicle rentals or motel occupancy tax revenues, Delk said.