Virginia bills include new tolls, fees for transportation fund

| 1/17/2007

The new legislative session opened a week ago in Virginia with transportation funding dominating discussion.

As the Republican-led House and Senate work to find common ground for how to pay for work on roads, rail and mass transit, several funding efforts have been offered to provide some relief.

Among the efforts that could draw consideration during the 45-day session is a bill from Delegate Robert Marshall, R-Prince William, that would require the Commonwealth Transportation Board to impose a fee on trucks and combination vehicles for use in maintaining state highways.

The bill would allow the board to calculate, impose, and collect a fee for damage done to highways by certain vehicles.

The amount of the fee would be based on the difference between the amount received annually by the commonwealth from the federal government for highway maintenance and the annual cost to the commonwealth of repairing damage done to the highways of the commonwealth by vehicles subject to the fee.

The fee and method of payment would be determined by the board. Fees would be imposed on a vehicle-by-vehicle basis.

One other bill would use bonds to pay for added travel lanes along Interstate 95 from Dumfries to Massaponax.

Sponsored by Delegate Mark Cole, R-Spotsylvania, the bill would issue $550 million in bonds to add a regular travel lane on both the northbound and southbound lanes. The extra lane would pick up from where the high-occupancy vehicle lanes end.

A bill offered by Sen. Ken Cuccinelli II, R-Fairfax, would allow the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to impose and collect tolls on new roads and added lanes. The bill also would allow the issuance of bonds supported by revenues generated by tolls.

In addition, every agency having control of toll facilities in northern Virginia would be required to be capable of fully automatic electronic operation.

Another bill would create a regional transportation authority with the power to levy tolls to pay for roadwork and upgrades on all major bridges and tunnels in Hampton Roads.

Sponsored by Delegate Terrie Suit, R-Virginia Beach, the bill would transfer the authority of seven bridges from the Virginia Department of Transportation to a regional group.

The group would control the James River Bridge, the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel, the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, the two downtown tunnels in Hampton Roads, the Interstate 64 bridge in Chesapeake and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.

The authority's creation would be subject to an affirmative vote of six or more local governments.

Suit wrote in the bill that local governments that do not vote to participate by Jan. 1, 2008, "will be deemed to have voted in favor to participate." The bill doesn't set toll rates for any bridges.

Suit's bill - HB1999 - is awaiting assignment to a committee. Cole's bill - HB1725 - is in the House Appropriations Committee. Cuccinelli's bill - SB782 - is in the Senate Finance Committee. Marshall's bill - HB1716 - is in the House Transportation Committee.

- By Keith Goble, state legislative editor