Toll Road Study Seems a Waste
“Impact studies” seem to be all the rage. Two proposals for such assessments have come along lately, and both look like a waste of time and money.
The first one, discussed in detail in this space Sunday, was to evaluate the possible future effect on downtown Southern Pines businesses of the Bell family’s planned mixed-use development on 558 acres next to Pine Needles. As we said, it sounds like an attempt to put town government in the protectionism business, helping the central business district head off possible competition.
At least that study would cost “only” five figures. The other one, under which the N.C. Department of Transportation would undertake to assess the economic impact of charging tolls on Interstate 95 through the state, would run into seven figures — $1.6 million, to be exact. That, too, looks like a bad idea — if for no other reason than that the tolls themselves are a bad idea.
Indirectly Affects Moore
This question is of more than passing academic interest to Moore County residents. I-95 may not run through here. At its closest, it is roughly an hour’s drive southeast of Moore County. But whether you’re heading north to Washington or south to Miami, you’re likely to end up cruising on 95 for a good part of your journey.
And make no mistake: Anything that affects I-95 ends up affecting our whole region, whether directly or indirectly. If it gets a cold, we’ll end up sneezing.
NCDOT has picked an odd time to push for this study, since the whole idea of “tolling” I-95 appears to be losing support in North Carolina — if it ever had much. Our state has only one relatively short stretch of toll road so far, which loops around to the south of Raleigh. There are a half-dozen other toll proposals that are either losing backing in the General Assembly or facing court challenges.
Paying From Both Pockets
Road builders in many parts of the country have embraced the concept of establishing tolls because of declining revenue from gasoline taxes, the traditional revenue source. But there is a basic inequity about the whole idea, which hits users of certain roads in both pockets — once through the gas tax and once through a toll — while letting those traveling on most other roads, including I-40, I-85 and I-77, get by with paying just once. No fair.
At first glance, the idea of establishing tolls on I-95, the major north-south thoroughfare through North Carolina, has a certain appeal. Make all those out-of-state drivers pay for the privilege of passing through. But the problem with that is that this long segment of Interstate also carries a great many North Carolinians from point to point as they go about their lives.
And given that this heavily traveled highway passes through some of the poorest parts of the state, local residents who live along it are among those who can least afford that extra charge. There has been some talk of attempting to reduce the effect on local commuters, delivery people and workmen, but there is no guarantee that such a system would work.
Never mind studying the impact of more toll roads. Let’s study how we can get along without the dang things.
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