Tolls draw consideration in Virginia

| Monday, February 13, 2006

A bill in the Virginia Senate would give the Commonwealth Transportation Board authority to impose tolls on all vehicles crossing the North Carolina-Chesapeake line on U.S. 17. The effort is among several toll-related bills drawing consideration since the legislative session began last month.

Sponsored by Delegate John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, the border-tolling measure – HB133 – won passage before the full House last week. It has been forwarded to the Senate Transportation Committee for further consideration.

Tolls would be used to pay for widening Dominion Boulevard in Chesapeake, replacing the two-lane Steel Bridge on U.S. 17, and improving the interchange at the Oak Grove Connector.

Depending on the type of bridge designed and the configuration of the interchanges, the price tag could be between $128 million and $210 million, The Virginian-Pilot reported.

Chesapeake and the Virginia Department of Transportation are preparing a toll study to determine toll amounts. Cosgrove’s bill, however, mandates large trucks pay a minimum of $3.

Among the various tolling initiatives being debated in the legislature are two bills offered by Sen. Frank Wagner, R-Virginia Beach.

One bill would allow officials in Virginia and North Carolina to collect tolls from all drivers on Interstates 85 and 95 near the states’ common border south of Richmond, VA.

Each state could bring in nearly $100 million annually under the plan, The Associated Press reported. The plan would require revenue to be spent on work for the two interstates.

Wagner is calling for $5 car tolls with a higher fee for large trucks.

An authority made up of officials from both states would oversee the tolling operation.

If approved in both states, their transportation departments would study the toll proposal. It would need final approval from federal highway regulators.

The Senate Transportation Committee unanimously approved the bill – SB614 – last week.

Another Wagner bill – SB720 – unanimously approved by the panel would allow the state’s transportation board to impose tolls on state highways. Localities would have to agree to adding tolls.

Tolls could be imposed only on limited access highways, where users could not evade paying.

One other bill approved by the Senate Transportation Committee would charge fees on all major bridges in Hampton Roads.

Sponsored by Sen. Marty Williams, R-Newport News, the bill would set up a regional bridge authority with the power to levy tolls to pay for roadwork and upgrades on six major bridges and tunnels in the region and build a third crossing to connect the Peninsula with South Hampton Roads, the Daily Press of Newport News, VA, reported.

The revenue would pay for improvements to those bridges, aimed at reducing traffic congestion either through widening lanes or adding additional tunnels on the most heavily used water crossings in the region.

The House approved a bill that would allow adjoining counties, cities, and towns to enter into agreements for the construction and operation of highways, bridges, and ferries within their boundaries.

Sponsored by Delegate Robert Marshall, R-Prince William, the bill would allow the localities to impose and collect tolls.

VDOT would get the final say on any project.

Wagner’s bills – SB614 and SB720 – and Williams’ bill – SB192 – are before the full Senate. Marshall’s bill – HB201 – is in the Senate Transportation Committee.

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