Toll booths in Virginia? They might as well be brick walls

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 12/7/2012

Truckers oppose the concept of paying an extra toll tax on federally funded interstates, but such a tax could happen on I-95 in Virginia if the feds approve the state’s application. Transportation officials have scheduled three public meetings next week to update the public and take comments about the proposal that, if approved, would add a toll booth to I-95 in Sussex County.

The Virginia Department of Transportation says the I-95 corridor requires $12 billion worth of improvements over the next 25 years, but the agency can provide only $2 billion. Officials say tolling the existing lanes – something that no state has accomplished to date – is the answer.

OOIDA adamantly opposes tolls on existing federal highways. One reason is that truckers already pay fuel taxes and other user fees such as tire taxes and heavy vehicle use taxes for every mile they travel interstate highways. Tolls, therefore, are simply another tax on mobility.

Parts of I-95 are 60 years old, and have generated billions of dollars in fuel taxes and user fees through the years.

“It raises the question, has the Virginia DOT been a good steward for I-95? It’s our opinion that they haven’t been a good steward,” says Ryan Bowley, OOIDA’s director of legislative affairs. “They will say this road is critical to the state’s economy, but in their next breath they say it’s falling apart. If it’s so critical, why do you – the DOT, the state Legislature, both political parties – let it fall apart?”

Bowley points out that Virginia has one of the largest state-maintained highway systems in the country, and that commitment prevents the state from spending more on large-scale projects like I-95 improvements. He says the state should examine its own system before asking the public for more money.

“Instead of looking at how the state spends its transportation money, they’re looking at tolls which would affect the livelihood and economy across the state,” Bowley says.

Virginia is one of three states with conditional federal approval to pursue tolls on an interstate. VDOT is waiting on the Federal Highway Administration to approve its application for full-on approval to set up a toll booth in Sussex County to catch incoming traffic. Local traffic would most likely get a discount, according to the plan, which can ease the local public’s perception of the toll plan.

Out-of-state truckers need to keep the pressure on local, state and federal lawmakers to shelve the toll plan because of the effect it would have on the livelihoods of those hauling the nation’s freight.

Bowley said lawmakers need to be reminded that truckers cannot always pass a toll or toll increase on to their customers, and that the added expense comes straight from their bottom lines.

VDOT has scheduled three public meetings on the I-95 toll proposal. They are:

  • Monday, Dec. 10, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Sussex Central High School, 21394 Sussex Drive, Sussex, VA  23884
  • Wednesday, Dec. 12, from 6 to 8 p.m. at John Tyler Community College, Nicholas Student Center, 13101 Jefferson Davis Highway, Chester, VA 23831
  • Monday, Dec. 17, from 6 to 8 p.m. at VDOT Fredericksburg District, 86 Deacon Road, Fredericksburg, VA 22405

“Even if they’re not Virginia residents – if they pass through Virginia or do business in Virginia, there are still opportunities for truckers to comment,” Bowley said. “This is still a federally maintained and coordinated Interstate System and we have a state trying to levy an entrance tax into the state.”

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