Virginia lawmakers are backing out of their plans to toll Interstate 81 to fund a $2 billion project on the corridor, for now. In a revised version of both the House and Senate bills, the toll provision from the original drafts has been scrapped, leaving open other possible funding mechanisms.
On Thursday, Jan. 31, the Virginia House and Senate both submitted a substitute bill regarding I-81 corridor improvement funding. Originally, both bills included a provision that would toll primarily truckers to fund the project, while not allowing any additional taxes at the same time. However, the substitute bills do not even mention the word “toll.” Rather, lawmakers will further explore funding possibilities.
“What this legislation now does is take the tolling mechanism out,” Rep. Landes said during Thursday’s committee hearing. “There has been not, what I would say, total agreement on what the funding mechanism should be for Interstate 81.
Landes went on to say he has always been open to any kind funding, including a motor fuel tax.
Meanwhile in the Senate, Sen. Mark Obenshain and Sen. Charles Carrico pushed through a similar substitute bill.
“There have been a lot of conversations about the tolling issue,” Carrico said during the Senate committee meeting on Thursday. “I think the framework has to stay in place for us to move forward.”
An Interstate 81 Committee created by the bill will review the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan adopted by the transportation board in December as it relates to funding options for improvements to the I-81. The committee will conduct regional public meetings on options for funding and improvements and seek input from the public and stakeholder organizations. The committee will report to the governor and lawmakers by Dec. 15, 2019, regarding its recommendations for funding and prioritization of projects.
Since legislation was introduced on Jan. 15, several groups, including the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, have expressed concern and opposition over the tolling option. With nearly a year before the report is due, stakeholders will now have a seat at the table.
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