Taking their tolls
If the 182 miles of Interstate 95 in North Carolina don’t get $4.4 billion of upgrades, the eight counties the aged superhighway cuts through could lose almost 10 times that amount in economic output over the next four decades. But local business leaders say the most logical way to cover the bill — tolling — would do more harm than good. Built between 1956 and 1980, the mostly four-lane highway has received few upgrades and needs more lanes, improved interchanges and better bridges. The state Department of Transportation first floated the idea of charging tolls last year, but that option was met with public outcry. In May, a consultant’s report to NCDOT asserting that tolling makes the most economic sense stirred the pot again. The state House of Representatives took a stance that same month, passing a measure that would only allow them on new lanes.
Opponents say tolls “double tax” drivers who have already paid the state’s hefty gas levy and divert traffic onto roads without them. More than 30 local governments, chambers of commerce and other boards have passed resolutions opposing them on I-95. “We build our business model on a free and unencumbered interstate,” says Ernie Brame, chairman of No Tolls I-95 Coalition and general manager of Kenly 95 Petro, a truck stop off the interstate in Johnston County. “I want to have a level playing field with the rest of North Carolina.” (The only toll road in the state is the Triangle Expressway, near Raleigh, which was completed last year.) But the state has identified only $455 million in existing funds for I-95 improvements, and tolls on only new lanes wouldn’t cover most of the bill. And if the state simply maintains I-95, the counties it passes through would see their projected economic output decrease nearly 2.6% — $40.8 billion — by 2050, according to the most recent study. About 9,700 fewer jobs would be created annually.
LUMBERTON — Cape Fear Arsenal will open a plant here, investing $15.2 million and creating 150 jobs within three years. The Fayetteville-based company makes ammunition, primarily for law-enforcement agencies. Annual wages will average $41,559, higher than Robeson County’s average of $26,832.
WILMINGTON — The Council of State approved a 21-year lease with Bethesda, Md.-based Enviva Holdings that will allow the company to build a $35 million wood-pellet storage and shipping terminal at Port of Wilmington. It’s expected to create about 70 jobs and be completed by January 2015. The pellets are a popular fuel source in Europe because of renewable-energy requirements there (Regional Report, January).
WILMINGTON — Los Angeles-based 20th Century Fox Television will film its new TV drama Sleepy Hollow here starting this month. The show, loosely based on the classic story The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, will air on Fox this fall. The June announcement came weeks after NBC said its TV show Revolution would film its second season in Austin, Texas, instead of Wilmington.