North Carolina’s first foray intotoll-road construction could produce three four-lane highways and a high-rise bridge and skyway in the next decade. The North Carolina Turnpike Authority voted Feb. 16 to study, plan and design the $1-billion program.

The state formed NCTA in 2002 for its first toll road venture, with authorization to construct, operate and maintain three projects. The authority now has proposed four and it would like to add more. It has asked the General Assembly to expand its authority so it can. A Dept. of Transportation spokeswoman says the projects proposed for immediate development are:

  • The Garden Parkway, near Charlotte, which also is known as the U.S. 321/74 Bypass. The $419-million, 21.5-mile freeway will connect Interstate 485 near Charlotte/Douglas International Airport with I-85 west of Gastonia.
  • The Monroe Connector, also near Charlotte in Union and Mecklenburg counties, will link the U.S. 74 Monroe Bypass and I-485. The 11.5-mile route is expected to cost about $200 million.
  • The Triangle Parkway, west of Raleigh, a $75-million, 3.2-mile highway which may be extended another mile. It will parallel I-40 and extend from the Durham Freeway to I-540.
  • The 2.73-mile-long Cape Fear Skyway Bridge. According to Derrick Lewis, head of the NCDOT feasibility study office, the bridge will be either a steel-truss or cable-stay structure with two 700-ft spans on either side and a 1,000-ft span in the center. Its 92-ft-wide deck will have a four-lane roadway with a center median, but the bridge could be changed to a six-lane crossing later. The skyway will be part of a new 9.5-mile-long highway and viaduct route over coastal wetlands and the river south of Wilmington, connecting the U.S. 17 Bypass to U.S. 421.
  • Two vertical clearance heights, 185 ft and 225 ft, are being considered for the bridge. "There’s not that much difference in the price–about $6 million," says Lewis. Wilmington interests are pushing for the taller span so large cruise ships can reach state port docks upstream.

    If built to the higher elevation as a cable-stayed bridge, it would be, by far, the tallest in North Carolina and one of the tallest on the East Coast. It would rise higher than the 575-ft-tall Cooper River Bridge now under construction in Charleston, S.C., whose vertical clearance is 186 ft (ENR 4/17/03 p. 32). "It’s going to be an interesting thing to look at when it gets built," Lewis says.

    The Cape Fear bridge would relieve congestion on existing crossings, enhance emergency evacuation and improve access to port facilities. It also would facilitate Army and Marine Corps troop deployments through the port from Fort Bragg, near Fayetteville, and Camp Lejeune, near Morehead City.

    NCTA says building the skyway as a toll project should shave at least two decades off the timetable. NCDOT has said that it would not be able to afford to build it until about 2030 using traditional financing methods.The authority has no staff and relies on the NCDOT and HNTB Corp., Alexandria, Va., its prime consulting engineer, for planning, design, construction and operations.