Virginia Monday released the details of its bid to toll I-95. Adding tolls to existing interstate highways is not allowed by federal law except under specific pilot projects. Nearly a year ago, Virginia got conditional approval from the Federal Highway Administration under its Interstate System Reconstruction & Rehabilitation Pilot Program.
Section 1216(b) of TEA-21 established this program allowing up to three existing Interstate facilities (highway, bridge, or tunnel) in different states to be tolled to fund needed reconstruction or rehabilitation that could not otherwise be done without the collection of tolls.
The tolls would pay for projects such as rebuilding the I-95/I-85/U.S. 460 interchange, repaving 76 lane-miles of I-95 mostly south of Richmond and rebuilding four deficient bridges south of Richmond.
Cars would pay $4 and five-axle tractor-trailer trucks $12 at a toll plaza located in Sussex near Emporia. The toll would apply to vehicles traveling north and south.
I-95, the major north-south route along the East Coast, carries 40% of the interstate traffic in Virginia.
"Tolls are taxes, plain and simple. Trucks, as well as cars, need to slow down to pay a toll - thus creating a natural chokepoint for congestion, contributing to increased fuel use and emissions," said ATA President Bill Graves.
However, the VDOT says by using electronic collection on "open-road" tolling lanes, travelers won't have to slow down to pay the fee.
"Gov. McDonnell said 'If you don't want to pay a toll, don't use 95,'" Graves points out. "Well, the Main Streets and Maple Avenues of Virginia were not designed for large trucks and the significant increases in traffic that come with diverting traffic off the Interstate highway system. Putting more vehicles on these secondary roads is a recipe for more accidents and increased maintenance costs for cities and counties across the state."
Graves, the former of governor of Kansas, said while he sympathized with Virginia's plight, tolls were not the answer.
"I understand, perhaps as well as anyone, the struggles states have in paying for infrastructure, but tolls are not the 'conservative solution' to the problem. At a time when many in this country are looking to limit the size of government creating an entire bureaucracy to collect a toll, a bureaucracy that then needs to be paid for from those same tolls, is just wrong," he said.
"Thirty-five cents of every dollar collected at the tollbooth gets used to pay overhead and administrative expenses, while a simple 1-cent increase in the state's fuel tax would easily raise the $35 million to $50 million the state's tolling scheme purports to generate."
"I firmly believe that the best way to fund our roads and bridges is through the fuel tax - which directs nearly 99 cents of every dollar collected back into the asphalt, steel and concrete - and not tolls," Graves said. "Under VDOT's plan, in the first six years the Commonwealth would spend $95 million just to be able to collect your tax dollars. and that is just wrong."