Virginia lawmakers push back on toll plans

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 1/24/2013

A group of Virginia lawmakers from both sides of the aisle want more say on efforts to charge toll taxes on existing roadways in the state.

Gov. Bob McDonnell has authority under state law to seek federal permission to toll existing roadways – except for Interstate 81 – without getting the General Assembly’s approval. A request to charge tolls on I-95 in Sussex County is awaiting final approval by the Federal Highway Administration.

Plans call for charging motorists $4 and charging truckers $12 to access the roadway south of Richmond.

At least five bills are up for consideration at the statehouse that would require legislative approval from the General Assembly before tolls could be collected on Interstate 95 or any other existing interstates. High-occupancy toll lanes would be exempt from the rule.

Sen. Don McEachin, D-Henrico, introduced a bill – SB865 – to require lawmakers to agree to adding tolls on existing interstates. Sen. Stephen Martin, R-Chesterfield, offered a nearly identical version.

Delegate Chris Peace, R-Hanover, introduced a similar bill, HB2196. He says that state lawmakers should get to decide the fate of tolls.

“Issues related to transportation go through the General Assembly, except for the governor’s current proposal,” Peace said at a recent news conference. “We need to bring the subject of tolls back to its proper place.”

Delegate Roslyn Tyler, D-Jarratt, offered HB1460 to specifically address I-95 toll efforts.

Sponsored by Delegate Lionel Spruill, D-Chesapeake, HB2129 covers interstates, primary or secondary roads.

The lawmakers sent a letter Wednesday, Jan. 23, to the Virginia congressional delegation encouraging them to communicate concerns with the FHWA and ask the agency not to approve the I-95 tolling request.

Among the issues of concern highlighted in the letter is that tolling the roadway would cause as much as 40 percent of traffic to divert onto local roads. They point out that the affected roads are “ill-equipped to handle the increased traffic, leading to increased congestion and safety risks in local communities.”

Many Virginians appear to favor efforts to thwart tolls.

More than 90 percent of Virginia voters say it’s important to improve roads and highways, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll. However, 57 percent of respondents said tolling portions of I-95 is a bad idea.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association opposes tolling existing roadways. The Association says that tolls, in addition to other user fees including fuel taxes, amount to double taxation on highway users.

Ryan Bowley, OOIDA’s director of legislative affairs, said the fuel tax remains the most efficient option to address funding needs.

“Toll proponents tout supposed benefits to electronic tolling and things of that ilk, but they can’t escape the fact they are charging every single vehicle,” Bowley said. “There has to be a huge administrative back end to pay for that.”

To view other legislative activities of interest for Virginia, click here.

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