Virginia lawmakers headed home two days early Thursday,
Sept. 28, after accomplishing next to nothing during their special session on
transportation funding. Legislators did manage to pass one bill of significance
to the trucking industry during their two days of work.
The breakdown in talks for how to come up with about $1 billion a year
in additional revenue for roads, bridges and tunnels fell along the same lines
as what led to this year’s budget impasse that dragged out the regular session.
Problems stem from Republican leaders in the House and Senate who
haven’t been able to reach agreement on funding. Senate leaders say new
revenues, including a fuel tax increase, are needed to address congestion and
maintenance costs, while House leaders are vehemently opposed to higher taxes
The final straw came when a Senate panel Wednesday, Sept. 29, rejected
the bulk of a $2.4 billion House transportation plan that relied heavily on
debt and existing revenues that otherwise would be earmarked for schools,
health care and other services, The
Associated Press reported.
Despite all the turmoil, legislators did manage to approve a bill that
will force truck drivers caught with over-height vehicles at the Hampton Roads
Bridge-Tunnel to dig a lot deeper into their pockets. Senators voted
unanimously to approve the bill one day after the House of Delegates voted 89-6
to approve it.
“My goal isn’t to penalize all the truckers. We’ve got to find a way to
penalize the bad apples,” Delegate Glenn Oder, R-Newport News, told “Land Line
Now” on XM Satellite Radio earlier in the week about his bill.
Heftier fines and warning letters to trucking companies last year
helped briefly curtail incidents of too-tall trucks attempting passage in the
westbound tube along Interstate 64 near Norfolk, VA. The fines were $85 but
increased to $500 last year.
In recent months, however, wayward trucks have been making their way
back on to the route, The Virginian-Pilot reported. The result has been more congestion.
To address the issue, Oder called for getting tougher with problem
In addition to the $500 fines, Virginia law authorized judges to add
three demerit points to a commercial driver’s license. It takes 18 demerits in
one year to trigger a license suspension.
Oder initially sought a fine of $1,000 and $2,500 for a
fourth violation. The House Courts of Justice Committee agreed to the $1,000 fine
on the first offense, but wanted the $2,500 fine to kick in on a second
offense. Violations will be considered a moving violation to ensure it is
included on the trucker’s driving record.
Oder said while he believes the fines that took effect
in July 2005 work as a deterrent they just haven’t been high enough to solve
“When the fines initially got enacted and they first started ending up
in the courtroom there was almost a 70 percent drop in the number of violators.
But through the course of the spring and into early summer it eventually creped
back up to exactly where it was before we initiated the fines,” Oder said.
Signs have been posted on nearby Interstates 564 and 64, which merge to
form I-64, to inform truckers about the height restriction. In addition, fliers
have been posted at truck stops alerting truckers to the restrictions and the
penalties for violations.
If truckers fail to heed the warnings, a series of four over-height
sensors – one about one and three-quarters miles away from the tunnel entrance,
one at an inspection station three-quarters of a mile away, another at about a
quarter of a mile away, and a fourth close to the tunnel’s mouth – alert a
truck over 12 feet 6 inches tall if it attempts to pass.
Oder said that from May to mid-August, the Virginia
Department of Transportation stopped 1,400 trucks that sensors determined to be
close to or over the height restrictions. VDOT must stop traffic around the
bridge-tunnel an average of more than four times each business day because
truckers have ignored the warnings signals and approached the tunnel, he said.
The bill – HB5061 – now heads to Gov. Tim Kaine for his signature. If
he signs, the new fines will be enforced beginning in July 2007.
Efforts to come up with funding for transportation projects will have
to wait until next year during the regular session that begins in January.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative