STALLINGS – Drivers can now legally drive 65 miles per hour in Union County.
After nearly three decades of discussions and planning, the Monroe Expressway saw its first vehicle traffic Nov. 27 as the 20-mile long toll road that bypasses the city of Monroe opened.
Local community leaders joined officials from the North Carolina Department of Transportation and other dignitaries for a grand opening ceremony and ribbon cutting before the first tolls were generated. The speed limit on the new stretch of highway is 65 mph. It is the only road in the county with that high of a speed limit.
“This project was a long, long time in development. We are proud to deliver it to this region,” said Jim Trogdon, secretary of the N.C. Department of Transportation. “This is one example of how we can deliver transportation that ties regions together and bring success to everyone. Providing mobility options is part of that economic success.”
The west end of the four-lane fully electronic toll road begins just past the U.S. 74 interchange with I-485 near the Mecklenburg-Union County line and runs 20 miles through Union County before ending near Marshville. There are six full interchanges and two partial interchanges near the end of the highway. Three of the interchanges are in Monroe and two are in Indian Trail.
Union County Chamber of Commerce President Pat Kahle described the new toll road as transformative for the entire region.
“What took years of discussing, planning, discussing, discussing and discussing a little more, took NCDOT only three short years of actual construction to bring this massive new infrastructure to Union County,” Kahle said. “The expressway has already changed the landscape of our county. However, the transformation has only begun. This highway has the potential to transform our community and how it views economic development, transportation, land use planning and how our county interacts with the greater Charlotte region.’’
Kahle said businesses on U.S. 74 should benefit as regional traffic moves to the Monroe Expressway. The toll road is expected to save at least 15 to 20 minutes on average while avoiding 25 traffic signals along the current route on U.S. 74. Studies have shown that about half of the current traffic that currently travels on U.S. 74 will use the expressway. Currently, 20 percent of the traffic on U.S. 74 is commercial truck traffic.
“Union County residents will have greater mobility and easier access to local businesses on existing 74,” Kahle said. “At the same time, high-speed travelers on this new highway will still have convenient access to our communities using the multiple interchanges.”
The new expressway is expected to generate economic growth along the route. The area around Wingate University is expected to experience significant growth in the future and the school has already bought more than 100 acres around its campus for future development.
Wingate University President Rhett Brown said one study showed the population in the towns of Wingate and Marshville could grow from its current 8,000 residents to 30,000 in 10 years.
“Much gratitude is owned to our elected leaders who have kept the faith for decades,” Brown said. “I’m so excited for our region’s future.”
What’s the cost?
Tolls for a two-axle vehicle going the length of the expressway one-way will be $2.54 with a NC Quick Pass or $3.92 if billed by mail. That computes to a 35-percent savings if a NC Quick Pass is used. Tolls for three and four-axle vehicles will be double to four-times the rate for a two-axle vehicle. Toll rates could go up a few cents each year to keep pace with inflation.
Drivers can opt to set up a pre-paid online NC Quick Pass account and get a sticker or transponder to get the lowest toll rates. A sticker is free and also works on toll roads in Florida and Georgia. There is a small fee for the transponder, but it works in all E-Z Pass states.
Drivers who do not wish to sign up for an NC Quick Pass account will pay tolls through the bill by mail program. Under this program, the registered owner of the vehicle incurring the toll charges receives an invoice in the mail.
Travelers who pay by bill will have the option of doing so online, by phone, through the mail or in person. The Turnpike Authority has opened two customer services offices in the region, one in Monroe and the other in Charlotte.
If tolls are not paid by bill by the due date, extra fees are added to the bill each month until paid. If the account goes delinquent, the Department of Motor Vehicles will put a hold on the owner’s registration, which means a vehicle owner can’t get a new registration without paying all delinquent tolls and late fee penalties.
Revenue collected from tolls will stay in Union County. Revenue will be used to maintain the Monroe Expressway and reduce the debt incurred to build the $731 million highway. If there is a surplus in any given year, that money would stay in the county.
For more information on paying for tolls go to www.myncquickpass.com.