LUMBERTON — Seven city councilmen recently penned a letter to U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers stating their opposition to proposed tolling on Interstate 95.
The letter, signed by Councilmen Erich Hackney, Don Metzger, Robert Jones, Harry Ivey, John Cantey, John Robinson and Jackie Taylor, was sent also to U.S. Reps. Mike McIntyre and Larry Kissell, the local legislative delegation, both U.S. senators from North Carolina and N.C. Department of Transportation officials.
Using tolls to pay for widening and making improvements to the 182 miles of I-95 that run through North Carolina from South Carolina to Virginia is recommended in a state-commissioned study — the I-95 Corridor Planning and Finance Study — as the best way to pay for the project. The state is responsible for 10 percent of the funding, or $440 million.
In their letter, they express their support for a study that Ellmers has called for on the economic effect the tolls would have on communities along the I-95 corridor.
“While there is no argument that the interstate could use improvements, mandating that existing North Carolina taxpayers contribute to this plan is inappropriate,” the councilmen said in the letter, adding that they feel little research was done to seek alternative funding options.
They noted that Robeson County is one of the poorest counties in the state.
“What we find so disgusting about this proposal is that North Carolina already pays one of the highest gasoline taxes in the United States, money that is specifically designed and set aside to pay for such improvements,” the councilmen said. “… To pay approximately $20 for travel from the South Carolina line to the Virginia line is ludicrous and deserves additional study involving serious thinking individuals.”
Councilman Leon Maynor, of Precinct 7, did not sign the letter.
“I’d like to see some options on how to generate money if we don’t go with the tolls, instead of saying we don’t want the tolls,” Maynor said. “If you’re not in favor it, let’s talk about what we can do.”
Lumberton joins Fairmont and St. Pauls boards, which have also gone on record opposing tolls.
The study proposes two toll sites in Robeson County — at mile marker 12 near U.S. 74, and between mile marker 28 and 31 at St. Pauls. Overall, there would be nine sites located along North Carolina’s section of I-95. It would cost about $20 in tolls to travel the entire length of the interstate in North Carolina.
The study calls for construction of Phase 1 to begin in 2016 and end sometime in 2019, which would include a 61-mile stretch of the interstate from mile-marker 20 in Lumberton to mile-marker 81 at the U.S. 40/I-95 interchange in Johnston County. The work would include widening 50 miles from mile-marker 31 to 81 to eight lanes, with the remaining sections being widened to six lanes.
McIntyre, a Lumberton native, said last month that congressional delegates from North Carolina are joining together in an effort to stop federal approval of the state’s request to toll the interstate.