Toll talk expected during special session in Virginia

| 9/26/2006

With a special session on transportation scheduled for this week in Virginia to resolve funding issues, some efforts likely to draw consideration are being renewed from earlier this year.

One of those efforts is a bill offered by Delegate John Cosgrove that would require the Commonwealth Transportation Board to impose tolls to be imposed on all vehicles crossing from North Carolina into Chesapeake, VA, on U.S. 17.

The border-tolling measure – HB5086 – is a renewal of an effort that after undergoing changes was awaiting approval in a conference committee when the regular session ended in March, which effectively killed it.

Tolls are being sought to pay for improvements to the highway, widening Dominion Boulevard in Chesapeake and replacing the two-lane Steel Bridge on U.S. 17.

Toll rates for large trucks with three or more axles would start at $3 per trip. Rates for other vehicles would be determined after a study by the city of Chesapeake and the Virginia Department of Transportation.

The previous version called for large trucks to pay $1 per axle with commuters being charged 50 cents. Other drivers would have paid $2.

While some talks during the special session will focus on whether to enter into agreements with public or private groups to buy or lease certain roadways or portions of roadways in the state, a bill from Delegate Robert Marshall, R-Manassas, would place conditions on any agreement.

Marshall’s bill – HB5068 – would require that the General Assembly sign off on any agreement “to transfer responsibility for control, maintenance and/or operation of any toll facility from (VDOT) to any other public or private entity.”

A separate bill offered by Delegate John Welch, R-Virginia Beach, would put a requirement on any toll route that remains under state control.

The measure – HB5067 – mandates that all toll facilities controlled by VDOT be capable of fully automated electronic operation by July 1, 2008.

One other bill would require that the Commonwealth Transportation Board designate any high-occupancy vehicle lanes, or HOV lanes, along Northern Virginia roadways as high-occupancy toll lanes, or HOT lanes.

The lanes would remain free for carpoolers but other vehicles would be allowed to use them at varying toll rates, depending on the time of day.

Sponsored by Delegate William Fralin, R-Roanoke, the bill – HB5089 – follows an announcement by Gov. Tim Kaine this month that developers working on HOT lanes for Interstate 95 in Northern Virginia have been awarded a $10 million interest free loan.

The special session starts Wednesday, Sept. 27. Each of the bills is awaiting consideration in the House Transportation Committee.

To read about more transportation bills expected to draw consideration during the special session, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor