North Carolina joined the growing number of states discovering or rediscovering toll roads as a means for building highways today with the opening of the first 3.4-mile phase of the Triangle Expressway (TriEx) near Durham.

Once the second-phase is completed around this time next year, the $1 billion, six-lane TriEx will extend 18.8 miles through  Research Triangle Park, a route first proposed in 1958 when the now-bustling R&D-rich area was little more than empty fields.

As has been the case with many other recent toll projects, the TriEx sat on the shelf while public transportation funds were allocated to other priorities. Local leaders also resisted the idea of tolls, only to see TriEx construction pushed further and further into the future.

But with the needs/resources disparity of the past decade and a half forcing a renaissance of toll facilities, projects like the TriEx have finally found a viable route to not having to be referenced with that seemingly perpetual adjective “proposed.”

Appropriately for its location in a high-tech hub, the case for the TriEx was boosted by advancements in toll-collection technology.

As with another long-delayed cousin to the north, Maryland’s Intercounty Connector, tolls will be paid electronically and at speed. More than 4,000 transponders have been sold since October according to the North Carolina Turnpike Authority, the state Department of Transportation’s toll road development arm.

With eight more toll projects to pursue, the Authority isn’t waiting to see how successful it’s new foray into tolling is.

In November, the state signed a $367.7 million design-build contract for the 19.7-mile Monroe Connector/Bypass near Charlotte. Monroe Bypass Constructors  (a joint venture of United Infrastructure Group, Inc.; Boggs Paving, Inc.; and Anderson Columbia Company, Inc.; plus lead design firm Rummel, Klepper & Kahl LLP) is slated to begin work next year with an eye toward having that project completed in 2015.

Other potential toll projects being contemplated include another Charlotte-area highway, the 21.9-mile Garden Parkway; the Mid-Currituck Bridge, which would provide an second link to the coastal Outer Banks; and the Cape Fear Skyway near Wilmington.

This spate of toll road construction in the Tar Heel state complements the aggressive tolling tactics being applied across the border in Virginia, which this week added the Midtown Tunnel and I-95 HOT/HOV lanes to its already bulging P3-financed construction portfolio.

What's more, both states by and large enjoy public support for toll-funded infrastructure, a sentiment that’s by no means shared by citizens in other states, including California where toll roads are a long-standing fact of life.

Just the same, mid-Atlantic motorists would probably be wise to make the nominal investment in a toll transponder for their vehicles. Sooner or later, you’ll likely need it.