RALEIGH — Mayor Buddy Westbrook says he plans to attend a Monday meeting at Robeson Community College to let his voice be heard against a toll proposed for Interstate 95 between mile markers 28 and 31 near St. Pauls.
The town’s Board of Commissioners passed a resolution opposing the tolls a year ago, saying that it would congest traffic on U.S. 301 and make travel through the town difficult.
The meeting is one of a series that the North Carolina Department of Transportation is holding along the I-95 corridor to review the study results with residents, local officials and business and community leaders. Monday’s will be held at the college’s Workforce Development Center from 4 to 7 p.m.
The St. Pauls site is one of two that has been proposed in Robeson County — the other being at mile marker 12 near U.S. 74.
Mitigated tolling is best way to pay for the state’s share — $440 million — of an estimated $4.4 billion in repairs and new construction to Interstate 95 passing through North Carolina, according to an economic study released recently. The study is a recommendation to the General Assembly, which will make the final decision.
The study calls for a 50 percent discounted toll for North Carolina residents. It’s estimated that tolls for traveling the entire 182 miles of interstate passing through North Carolina from the South Carolina border to Virginia would be $20 for motorists who do not live in North Carolina.
A state study released last year said that tolling is the best way to pay for widening, rebuilding or raising overpasses, and making safety improvements to the aging interstate. A plan introduced by the state Department of Transportation called for tolls to be collected from travelers every 10 miles along I-95 in North Carolina.
The economic study released Monday began last October at the direction of the General Assembly. The original study recommending tolling as the best means of generating the revenue needed to maintain the interstate was strongly opposed by many residents, businesses and local governments along the I-95 corridor, including in Robeson County.
The I-95 Economic Assessment was prepared by Cambridge Systematics of Atlanta for $1.6 million. Assisting in the study was an advisory council made up of leaders from key industry associations, economic development and tourism groups, the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce and the No Tolls I-95 Coalition.
Out of five alternatives studied — business as usual; build with no specific funding; tolls; mitigated tolls; and alternative funding — the study says that “mitigated tolls gives rise to the greatest economic benefit locally and statewide.”
According to the study, mitigated tolling would raise an estimated $5.1 billion while decreasing transportation costs by $62.3 billion and adding about 17,000 jobs annually through 2050.
The Lumberton Tourism Development Authority is one of the groups that last year strongly opposed any tolling of the interstate. Opposition centered around the negative impact tolls would have on local businesses and the residents that regularly use the interstate.
Supporters of tolling contend that the revenue collected is the only way that long-overdue repairs and widening can be made in a reasonable time to the highway that was built between 1956 and 1980. They say that widening the highway will allow quicker commuting times and less travel costs.
Included in the study was a look at alternative funding, including increasing a number of taxes to pay for the project. Tax increases examined included a 10-year dedicated sales tax; personal income tax; motor fuels tax; and the state’s revenue package, including sales tax, highway-use tax and vehicle registration fee.