NC DOT Plan for I-95

March 13, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Posted in Economy | Leave a comment
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The North Carolina Department of Transportation plans to add lanes and replace or modify some interchanges and overpasses along I-95. They want to pay for the improvements by charging tolls.

The plan for Robeson County would add two lanes to our part of I-95. Adding two lanes would add at least 24 feet to the width of the road, and the plan is to widen the median as well, making the road even wider.

Increasing the width of the road would have a serious impact on businesses on Kahn Drive, Dawn Drive, Capuano Street, and Lackey Street. Hotels, motels, restaurants, auto dealers, and other businesses might lose large pieces of their parking lots, if not access to their property. Many of these businesses would be unable to relocate. They would close, and the area would lose jobs, tourism revenue, and tax revenue. Many of the existing buildings would become abandoned eyesores bordering the highway.

In addition, the DOT wants to turn I-95 into a toll road. Those who use I-95 to commute to work, to go to stores, restaurants, and other businesses, or to go on vacation or to recreational areas would have to pay ten cents a mile, with a minimum toll of $.25. If you go border to border it would cost you about $19.20. If you drive an 18-wheeler it would cost you about $57.

The DOT forecasts that traffic will go up enough to justify the increased road capacity. I question that forecast: in the current economy, with fuel prices going sky high, I would expect traffic to go down.

I’m not aware of any studies on the economic impact of the I-95 project, but a few things seem clear. People and shippers will do what they can to avoid the tolls, and in North Carolina route 301 is parallel to I-95 for much of its length. Elsewhere, there are local roads that can expect increased traffic, heavier vehicles, and increased maintenance costs. Neither 301 nor the local roads are designed for the kind of traffic they are likely to get. High volume traffic mixed with shoppers, pedestrians, and kids on bicycles would mean more accidents: adding a toll in money to I-95 would add a toll in blood to other roads.

The Indiana Toll Road is a similar situation. The state leased the road, projecting that traffic would increase. The tolls went up, the traffic went down, and the company that leased the road is in financial difficulties. Traffic went to parallel roads, and it is now slower, more difficult, and more costly in fuel to get across Indiana.

I believe that the NC DOT plan for I-95 is a bad plan that will be economically disastrous for Lumberton, for Robeson County, and indeed for all of North Carolina. Others agree: The Johnson County Commission passed a resolution opposing the plan, and Representative Renee Elmers, who represents the Harnett area, introduced legislation in Congress to forbid it.

I’ve sent messages like this one to officials at the Federal, State, County, and City levels. If you’re a resident of North Carolina I’d appreciate your writing your elected officials. We can defeat this plan!

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