Virginia governor signs toll bill

| Tuesday, April 09, 2002

Virginia Gov. Mark Warner signed legislation into law over the weekend that will enable state officials to reach full fist into the pockets of truckdrivers using Interstate 81 while letting other motorists pass by unscathed.

Warner signed HB1373 allowing tolls on trucks using I-81 to help pay for widening plans. The bill amends Virginia's Public-Private Transportation Act to permit tolls on trucks using the 325-mile stretch of road from Winchester to Bristol. Cars would travel the remaining toll-free lanes.

The provision is essential to a private consortium's plan to widen the state's portion of I-81 to eight lanes and reserve four lanes for commercial trucks. The consortium's financing plan relies heavily on tolls.

Truckdriver and OOIDA board member John Taylor of Cross Junction, VA, says "We need the additional lanes on I-81, as well as other highways, but it's certainly unfair to ask the trucks to pay for it all. It's benefitting the people in the automobiles as it is the trucker. We're not in a big profit margin business to start with. Many truckers and companies are going broke. It's not like we're making a tremendous amount of money. This obviously would be an extra burden on the industry.

"It's immaterial to the trucker how we pay for the roads as long as it's fair," says Taylor. "Are they going to relieve us from ton-mile or fuel taxes on that road? Are we going to be paying the same amount of taxes or more? That's the question I want answered."

Taylor says he also is concerned about the precedent decisions like this creates. "Private toll roads appear to be the route the nation is taking," he says. "States are looking to put future road building in the hands of private contractors and toll road systems. The trucking industry must gear itself to this."

The Commonwealth Transportation Board and the Federal Highway Administration must approve the widening plan and decide whether to impose tolls.
-- Keith Goble

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