Obama Administration Touts Nation’s First All-Electronic Toll Road in N.C.

The U.S. DOT dispatched Federal Highway Administrator Victor Mendez to North Carolina yesterday to kick off construction of the $1 billion Triangle Expressway, the state's first toll road and the nation's first to use per-mile electronic tolling.

tolls_220x165.jpgThe scene at yesterday's N.C. toll road groundbreaking. (Photo: WRAL)

The highway was financed by a package of toll-backed bonds and Build America Bonds, supplemented by a $386 million loan from the Obama DOT. Electronic tolls would be levied on drivers through a windshield-mounted transponder device that deducts fees based on the number of miles driven.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood hailed the tolling method on his blog today,  calling it a sign that the Triangle Expressway is "not just another highway."

Indeed, the success of an all-electronic system such as North Carolina's could pave the way for tech-dependent tolls on vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and congestion pricing as supplements to the increasingly outmoded federal gas tax.

Some local residents, however, have aired concerns about the toll road's impact on low-income drivers who lack the means to purchase a transponder. Those without the device will have to pay higher toll bills that are mailed based on video-captured images of their license plates.

Meanwhile, transit expansion in the Triangle area of Raleigh-Durham is proceeding, albeit at a slower pace than the new toll road. The state legislature voted in April to let counties opt for local sales taxes to pay for rail and bus improvements. Those taxes would likely come before voters in mid-2010 at the earliest.