Overview and Purpose
The 182-mile stretch of Interstate 95 in North Carolina was built between the 1950s and the 1980s as a four-lane interstate. Unlike other interstate highways in the state, large-scale rehabilitation or widening has been minimal on this aging interstate.
In 2009, the N.C. Department of Transportation determined that I-95 needed a more holistic evaluation from state line to state line for planning purposes. Thus, the I-95 Corridor Planning and Finance Study, mandated by the N.C. General Assembly, began to take root.
The initial study, as well as follow-up studies, encompassed the entire length of I-95 and provided NCDOT with a master plan for future improvements in North Carolina.
It's important to note that these are high-level studies and do not directly result in construction projects. The results are used as a basis to submit projects every two years in the Strategic Transportation Investments project submittal process.
Overall improvements to I-95 have not been scheduled; however, the latest version of the State Transportation Improvement Program includes several projects along the corridor.
Latest News and Updates
February 2016: NCDOT completes updates to the I-95 finance plan to include the effects of the Strategic Transportation Investments (STI) law on the state's ability to fund I-95 improvements without tolling. The updated finance plan concluded that NCDOT will not be able to accelerate I-95 improvements in any significant way, because STI restricts the amount of Highway Trust Fund revenues that can be spent on a single project or corridor.
Dec. 4, 2015: Congress approved the FAST Act (Fixing America's Surface Transportation) five-year transportation funding bill to improve the nation's surface transportation infrastructure. This includes North Carolina's roads, bridges, transit systems and rail transportation network.
The FAST Act also modified the timeline for North Carolina's 2012 conditional approval of the I-95 corridor in the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program, essentially requiring NCDOT to complete its process by Dec. 4, 2016, to retain its slot.
October 2003: I-95 Tolls Feasibility Study
A feasibility study – mandated by the N.C. General Assembly – found that tolling I-95 in North Carolina most likely could completely finance 30 years of costly improvements to expand and maintain the interstate. Traditional funding, the study found, would likely cover no more than 40 percent of the then-estimated $3 billion needed.
The study recommended that:
2010: Borders Tolls Assessment
An assessment on tolling I-95 at the South Carolina and Virginia borders found that electronic tolling – as well as a limited number of toll collection stations at the borders – would generate relatively little revenue to fund necessary improvements on the interstate.
The assessment concluded that state line tolling would only generate net revenue sufficient to reconstruct up to a mile of interstate every year on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Using a rule of thumb that each $1 of net revenue can bond approximately $10 of improvements, an expected revenue stream of $24 million would be sufficient to support reconstructing less than 10 miles of I-95, compared to 182 miles of needs.
April 2011: I-95 Planning and Finance Study
Consultants released results of a 2009 planning and finance study aimed at:
- Establishing corridor improvement and rehabilitation needs
- Examining funding options
- Conducting environmental assessments of the impact of alternative program funding alternatives
- Preparing an improvement program financing plan
- Considering the merits of submitting an application to the federal Interstate System Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Pilot Program
The study is available in the I-95 Corridor Planning and Financing Study document library.
January 2012: Environmental Assessment
The results of an environmental assessment (studied to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act) on the impacts of tolling as the primary funding source for I-95 improvements concluded that the environmental impact of tolling would not be significant.
The assessment also concluded that expanding the current general-use lane concept – funded primarily by toll revenue – provided the best financial opportunity.
Following a series of public hearings on the environmental assessment, NCDOT conducted additional assessments on the economic impact of tolling I-95 before initiating work on a Finding of No Significant Impact.
The assessment is available in the I-95 Corridor Planning and Financing Study document library.
February 2012: Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program
June 2013: Economic Assessment
The results of the economic assessment found that the economic loss to the I-95 corridor region and the state – as a result of maintaining I-95 under traditional funding – is far greater than the loss arising from the increase in state and local taxes and/or fees (including tolling) to pay for proposed improvements.
Another finding from the economic assessment was that the economic impact of tolls is no better or worse than other funding alternatives that were examined and that implementing proposed improvements to I-95 – regardless of how they are funded – would have a positive economic impact for the I-95 corridor region and the state.
The economic assessment was the result of collaboration with an advisory council consisting of representatives from major industries concerned about the potential of utilizing tolling to add nearly 500 miles of new road lanes to I-95.
The assessment is available in the I-95 Corridor Planning and Financing Study document library.
July 2014: Express Lane Assessment
An assessment on the feasibility of adding tolled, managed "express lanes" – instead of tolling all lanes – found that doing so would be, at best, cost-neutral compared to the construction of general-use lanes and would not provide for needed rehabilitation costs.
The main reason, the study found, is that heavy, extended, recurring congestion along the corridor is not a major element of long-term improvement needs. Use of the express lanes would be only sporadic and would not benefit a major portion of I-95 traffic.
2015: Variable Pricing Assessment
The Variable Pricing Assessment found that implementing a variable pricing policy – where toll rates would vary by season and time of day to reflect congestion conditions – would likely have a significant negative impact on financial feasibility due to the increase in required state funding and the delay in repaying those funds from residual toll revenues.
2015: Finding of No Significant Impact and Environmental Assessment Re-Evaluation
Following the completion of both the environmental and economic assessments, a draft Finding of No Significant Impact is under development.
Because of the time elapsed since the completion of the environmental assessment – and at the direction of the Federal Highway Administration – NCDOT began preparing a re-evaluation of the environmental assessment in response to federal regulation.
The re-evaluation includes:
- Preparing responses to all comments about the original environmental assessment
- Meeting with the Agency Steering Committee to provide an update on study activities and review resource agency comment responses
- Updating and summarizing the environmental assessment documentation
- Preparing the re-evaluation to document actions and evaluations supplemental to those documented in the final environmental assessment
February 2016: Finance Plan Update
NCDOT updated the I-95 finance plan – prepared as a condition for entry into the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program – to include the implications of the Strategic Transportation Investments (STI) legislation on the state's ability to fund I-95 improvements without tolling and also to reflect new federal transportation funding authorization legislation.
Based on traffic and revenue forecasts prepared for the I-95 Economic Assessment – the original finance plan indicated a high probability that tolling could fully fund the I-95 improvements with little or no need for public equity and that toll financing would allow an aggressive improvement program schedule, with needed improvements completed far faster than through use of traditional funding.
The updated finance plan concluded that NCDOT will not be able to accelerate I-95 improvements in any significant way, because STI restricts the amount of Highway Trust Fund revenues that can be spent on a single project or corridor.
Even under the more conservative tolling scheme, toll revenues could underpin financing of an aggressive construction program under which the 182-mile stretch of I-95 could be improved and rehabilitated within 20 years of the start of construction.
The economic assessment and the finance plan concluded that the use of traditional public funding at historical funding rates would, at best, require 60 years to complete the same program, and with continued accrual of needs for both expansion and rehabilitation over time, it is more likely that traditional funding would never address I-95 needs.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why is I-95 important to North Carolina?
The 182-mile stretch of I-95 that runs through North Carolina is crucial for the movement of people and goods across the state and along the entire eastern seaboard. I-95 provides freight access to the major ports in Wilmington and Morehead City as well as convenient connections to rail facilities for the transfer and distribution of goods. The corridor also serves thousands of motorists traveling within the state and to the north and south of North Carolina. I-95 is a direct route to Fort Bragg, the largest Army installation in the world, based on population.
Why do we need the I-95 Corridor Planning and Finance Study?
The I-95 Corridor Planning and Finance Study created a blueprint for the future of I-95 in North Carolina and has helped determine the road's needs, define and prioritize necessary improvements and identify ways to fund these improvements.
Is there something wrong with I-95 through North Carolina?
I-95 in North Carolina was built between 1956 and 1980. With the exception of some sections near Fayetteville and the I-95/I-40 interchange near Benson, it is basically the same four-lane highway as when it was first built.
The roadway does not meet the most current design standards for a freeway carrying a large percentage of truck traffic. These standards specify 12-foot lanes with 12-foot paved shoulders and greater clearance under bridges. The medians are also too narrow along I-95 through much of the state.
Past studies have shown that I-95 in North Carolina must be rebuilt and widened to meet the needs of the growing number of vehicles that travel on it every day. The I-95 Corridor Planning and Finance Study produced detailed estimates of future traffic and evaluated whether the existing lanes on I-95 are sufficient to handle it.
Pavement and bridge conditions along I-95 are also an issue. Data from NCDOT shows that between one-third and one-half of the pavement along I-95 in the state is rated as "very poor," "poor" or "fair" and will need to be resurfaced or reconstructed. Bridges on I-95 are in poor condition as well. Of the 188 bridges over I-95 in North Carolina, nearly half of them have been identified as needing repair or replacement.
Additionally, the public has long expressed concerns about the safety of I-95 in North Carolina. This can be borne out in the data. From 2010 through 2012, the statewide fatal crash rate was 0.38 per 100 million vehicle miles. The fatal crash rate for I-95 in North Carolina during that time ranged from 0.72 to 1.02 crashes per 100 million vehicle miles.
Does the study consider tolling I-95? Has the decision to toll already been made?
No, a decision has not been made to toll I-95. The I-95 Corridor Planning and Finance Study evaluated tolling as one of many options for funding improvements to the corridor. The study provided an in-depth assessment of the needs for I-95 in North Carolina, with detailed information on the associated costs of improvements. The study also explored funding options using both toll and non-toll alternatives.
When will improvements to I-95 be made?
The role of the I-95 Corridor Planning and Finance Study was to create a blueprint for the future of I-95 in North Carolina, which includes identifying and prioritizing specific projects along the corridor for planning and construction.
The timeline for implementing these projects depends on available funding. A feasibility study completed in 2003, at the request of the state legislature, suggested that tolling I-95 would allow individual projects to move forward more quickly while non-toll alternatives would take longer.
How much did the study cost? Why did NCDOT hire consultants to do this work?
The I-95 study cost approximately $6.4 million. Expert consultants were chosen for this project because of their experience with sophisticated traffic modeling, public outreach and funding options. The study produced several tools that can be used again as planning and construction projects along various sections of I-95 move forward in the future. These include:
- An implementation plan, which defines individual projects along the corridor and ranks them in order of need
- A regional traffic model, which can predict future traffic volumes along I-95 and the effect that tolling I-95 would have on other roads such as U.S. 301
- A functional (i.e. conceptual-level) design for the improvements to I-95, which can be further refined as projects are initiated along sections of I-95
How much money would it cost each person to use I-95 if it is tolled?
Are you going to treat local drivers differently from out-of-state drivers if I-95 were to be tolled?
Various toll scenarios were evaluated as part of the I-95 Corridor Planning and Finance Study, including ways to reduce the burden on daily commuters.
Tolling I-95 could affect U.S. 301. Does the study include those effects?
Yes. The traffic model developed as part of the I-95 Corridor Planning and Finance Study predicted the effect that tolling I-95 would have on other roads, such as U.S. 301.
How did NCDOT use information it gathered from the public?
NCDOT sought public comment while conducting the I-95 Corridor Planning and Finance Study to learn how the public uses I-95 and perceives the roadway's deficiencies, improvement needs and potential funding options.
Public input will have an impact on the technical decisions, especially in helping NCDOT decide where the greatest needs are along I-95. It will also ensure that all financing options are explored and that the impact of any recommended option is fully understood.
Why aren't other interstates in North Carolina, such as I-85, also being considered for tolling?
The I-95 Corridor Planning and Finance Study focuses on I-95, but it does not preclude consideration of tolling other interstate routes in North Carolina.
I-95 was considered for tolling because of its deteriorating conditions and the expensive anticipated costs of the necessary improvements.
I-95 is basically the same four-lane highway today as when it was first built. I-85, for example, has been widened in many locations over the years, particularly between Gastonia and Durham.
Won't toll booths on I-95 slow down and/or delay traffic?
The I-95 Corridor Planning and Finance Study looked at ways to collect tolls without the use of toll booths. One option involves creating a free-flow toll zone using an electronic collection system in which vehicles don't have to stop to pay tolls.
Drivers could use an electronic device called a transponder in their vehicle. When it passes through a toll zone, an overhead receiver would detect the transponder – affixed to the vehicle's interior windshield – and then deduct the toll amount from a prepaid account.
For drivers opting to go without a transponder, cameras in the toll zone would take a photo of the vehicle license plate, match it to DMV records and then either deduct the toll amount from a pre-paid account or bill the motorist associated with the license plate.
Charles Cox, P.E.
Project Development and Analysis Branch
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Derrick Lewis, P.E.
Feasibility Studies Unit
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Mike Bruff, P.E.
Project Development and Analysis Branch
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Resources for Local Property Owners
In many cases, it is inevitable that a certain amount of private property must be acquired. The displacement of homes and businesses is minimized to the extent practicable. The following brochures will answer questions about this process.