North Carolina jumps on I-95 toll bandwagon

| 6/24/2010

As Virginia officials make their case for tolls on I-95, there’s talk that North Carolina may follow suit. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association remains opposed to the tolling of existing federal highways that are already paid for with fuel taxes and other user fees.

In May, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell announced that he would seek tolling authority for the northbound lanes of Interstate 95 near the state’s border with North Carolina. His plan is to collect extra revenue from out-of-state traffic and use it to rebuild and/or expand the interstate.

Not to be outdone by their neighbors to the north, officials in North Carolina are discussing the need to toll the southbound lanes on their side of the state line.

OOIDA takes issue with the insinuation that out-of-state traffic is not paying its fair share. Truckers pay taxes on all miles they run in any given state.

“What politicians fail to tell Joe Voter is that they’re already collecting revenue from out-of-state commercial motor vehicles that goes to the treasury of each one of those states. For them to fail to acknowledge that is to really pull the wool over the eyes of the taxpayer,” Joyce said.

So far, neither state has submitted a formal application for tolling authority with the Federal Highway Administration, but it must be noted that Virginia currently possesses tolling authority for an out-of-date proposal to improve I-81. Gov. McDonnell wants to shift that authority to I-95.

Tolling an existing interstate has proven to be difficult. Just ask Pennsylvania.

The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission made attempts for three years to convert I-80 into a toll road as part of a state funding law, but the FHWA rejected the plan because officials could not prove that 100 percent of the toll revenue would stay with the roadway.

In fact, no “toll free” interstate highway has been successfully converted to a tollway to date. Current tolls on portions of I-95 existed prior to current federal regulations.

Public opposition to interstate tolling remains as strong as ever. OOIDA took a leadership role in the fight against I-80 tolls in Pennsylvania, and the Association is poised to act on any proposal that amounts to a double tax on truckers.

Joyce says states have been trying to create new revenue streams in part because Congress has not yet passed a new federal highway authorization bill.

“Without guidance and leadership from Congress and the White House to develop a full authorization bill to give states some confidence as they plan the future of their highways and infrastructure needs, states are going to take it upon themselves to develop revenue streams which could become very expensive on our economy,” Joyce said.

“Some of those revenue suggestions include expensive tolling schemes that will only hamper economic development opportunities in different states and regions of the country.”

OOIDA has called repeatedly for lawmakers at both the state and federal levels to account for the revenue they are already taking in from truckers and other taxpayers.

“I think the policymakers need to show us how they can rein in the wasteful spending of our hard-earned dollars,” Joyce said.

“If they do that, and show us they can justify the need for increasing infrastructure dollars, we as an Association would be willing to have that discussion. We acknowledge they will need more money, but is it to the level they are talking about?”

– By David Tanner, associate editor