A car travels under the gantries on a portion of the Triangle Expressway. Photo courtesy of NC DOT Communications.

Welcome to The Kicker from Carolina Public Press, a North Carolina news show bringing you conversations with journalists, sources and newsmakers from across the state.

In this episode, Carolina Public Press lead investigative reporter Kate Martin discusses her recent reporting on toll routes on North Carolina highways.

The Triangle Expressway, which runs between Apex in southern Wake County and Durham in Durham County, has been in operation since 2012. Toll routes near Charlotte are much newer. The Monroe Expressway in Union County has been open for several months. The Interstate-77 Express Lane has opened gradually in recent months with the final stretch only becoming accessible in November and a new pricing structure based on current traffic in place this month.

Despite some rhetoric to the contrary, highway planners generally see toll routes as a necessary evil justified by the need to reduce congestion on roads, especially near metropolitan areas. However, the North Carolina Department of Transportation has told Carolina Public Press that it doesn’t track congestion, which means it can’t determine directly whether the tolls are having the desired effect.

Financially, the Triangle Expressway is bringing in millions more than projected annually, while also coming in at lower costs than budgeted. Motorists are clearly willing to pay to take the faster route between cities in the Triangle, which means fewer drivers packing crowded routes like Interstate 440 and Interstate 40 near the Raleigh-Durham Airport.

The Monroe Expressway is yet to prove that it’s going to be as successful financially. Early numbers show it beating cost expectations, but not producing the expected revenues. That’s likely to blame on a lag in mail-in payments, so time may tell a more complete story.

The I-77 Express Lanes opened despite considerable controversy over what the public officials were thinking when they contracted with a foreign-owned private company to develop, build, maintain and operate the toll routes. Information on its performance so far remains unavailable.

About The Kicker

The Kicker is a production of Carolina Public Press. It also airs weekly at 7 p.m. Wednesdays on WPVM radio 103.7 FM in Asheville. Send an email to thekicker@carolinapublicpress.org if you would like to contact the staff of Carolina Public Press about The Kicker.

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