A House proposal that won unanimous approval last week to allow limited toll collection on Interstate 95 faced an unexpected challenge from toll foes when it returned for a final House floor vote Tuesday.
The House eventually gave its final approval -- not unanimous, this time -- and sent to the Senate a bill that would let the state Department of Transportation charge tolls only on new lanes added to interstate highways, while guaranteeing that drivers still can use the original lanes without paying tolls.
Rep. Michael Speciale, a New Bern Republican, tried to amend the bill to give the legislature power to veto any DOT decision to add toll lanes to an existing interstate highway. He said he supported the legislature's ongoing efforts to remove politics from transportation decision-making ... but not on toll roads. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to leave it in DOT’s hands” to decide which roads get tolls, Speciale said. “I don’t think we should abdicate our position and turn it over to an unelected bureaucrat, to let DOT make that decision for us.”
Bill supporters said local planning boards will have veto power over future toll projects, and DOT will be required to consult the legislature. They said Speciale's proposal would undo the support of DOT and Senate leaders for the measure, which preserves drivers' option to continue using interstates without paying tolls.
“I see an issue with I-95 because we have so many different opinions up and down the highway,” said Rep. Pat McElraft, an Emerald Isle Republican. “When you leave it up to people in the General Assembly, you might have one opnion down in Lumberton and another opinion from another area of I-95 – and you might have representatives fighting each other. We need to leave it to DOT.”
The House defeated Speciale's amendment by 97 to 18, and then approved the bill by 108 to 7.
--Bruce Siceloff, staff writer