Three years ago, David Joyner got into his car and went to see some mayors in western Wake County about making a planned bypass around Raleigh’s west side a toll road. A toll-free bypass on the north side was nearing completion, and the mayors wanted their leg of the Raleigh Outer Loop to be a freeway, too.
Joyner, executive director of the N.C. Turnpike Authority, had bad news: There was no money for the project. The earliest a toll-free road could be built was 20 years. With some persuasion, the mayors eventually came around. The toll road won the backing of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, a regional agency that coordinates the efforts of local governments in Wake and surrounding counties. “Essentially, what was presented to us was: It’s toll road or no road,” CAMPO Director Ed Johnson recalls.
So in August, dignitaries with fancy shovels broke ground on the $1 billion, 18.8-mile Triangle Expressway, which will link Raleigh’s western suburbs with Research Triangle Park. When the first phase opens in two years, it will be the state’s first toll road of the modern era but not the last. Four more are in planning, and the Turnpike Authority, created by the General Assembly in 2002, has approval to study four others. TriEx won’t have tollbooths. It will use cameras and other electronic equipment to identify drivers. The toll hasn’t been set, but an initial estimate is 14 cents a mile. When the road is paid off in about 30 years, it will become a freeway.
The state traditionally has paid for road construction and maintenance through gasoline taxes, sales taxes on automobiles and Department of Motor Vehicle fees. But politicians have been loath to demand the funds necessary to keep pace with increasing stress on the road network. “Taxes, both at the federal and state levels, have not been raised significantly over the last several decades,” says Mark Foster, DOT’s chief financial officer. “The usage of the system has more than doubled. The cost of maintaining the system has more than doubled. And you have an infrastructure that was built principally in the ’50s and ’60s that’s now coming due to be rebuilt.”
Critics say it’s unfair that people living near TriEx and the authority’s other projects will have to pay tolls to use more-convenient roads, in addition to the taxes and fees that support construction and maintenance of roads in other parts of the state. But TriEx and the other toll roads don’t have to cost them so much as a dime, Joyner says. “They have a choice whether they want to use it or not. Nobody’s putting a gun to anybody’s head and saying, ‘You’ve got to ride on this road.’”
Firm cops a new chief
Law Enforcement Associates Corp., struggling for years with a weak bottom line and a depressed stock price, gave the boot to Paul Feldman, its CEO since 2001. Alan Terry was named interim CEO. Since 2000, he has been a principal in a variety of businesses, including Carolina Lithotripsy LP and Continental Medical Services LLC, both based in Fayetteville. “I have worked with Alan on several successful business ventures and have firsthand knowledge of his strong management abilities and operational expertise,” Tony Rand, chairman of the Raleigh-based maker of electronic surveillance equipment, said in a statement. Rand also is majority leader in the state Senate. In December, the company’s stock moved from the American Stock Exchange to the bulletin-board exchange. By mid-September, it hadn’t surpassed 50 cents a share. The company made $72,000 on revenue of $9.2 million in 2008 after four straight years of losses.