Lawmakers are moving forward with a plan to place tolls on one of busiest interstates in Virginia in order to fund infrastructure upgrades.
On Tuesday, January 8, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam presented a legislative proposal to start tolling both commercial and passenger vehicles on I-81.
The new proposal would add toll gantries every 40 to 60 miles of the 325 miles of I-81 in the state of Virginia, according to WTOP.
Though the definite toll rates have not yet been decided, tolls for trucks are expected to be set at around $0.17 per mile, meaning it could cost truckers more than $55 to travel the entire length of I-81 one way. Tolls for passenger vehicles are expected to be $0.07 to $0.11 per mile. Drivers of cars and smaller trucks would be eligible to purchase a pass to allow them unlimited travel on I-81 for a set fee, but semi trucks won’t be eligible for the pass.
Tolls would be discounted at night to encourage drivers to use I-81 at off-peak hours.
The tolls are expected to bring in $150 million per year.
The toll funds will be used for infrastructure improvement projects designed to ease traffic congestion on I-81. These improvements include widening lanes on I-81, adding electronic signage, and increasing resources to more quickly clear crashes on the interstate.
Trucking groups have condemned tolling plan. The Virginia Trucking Association’s President and CEO Dale Bennett said,
The Commonwealth Transportation Board I-81 Report lacks many of the needed facts it would require to launch a tolling program in Virginia. There is no discussion of the federal application process, nor even a mention that one is required. The report does not look at diversion levels and negative effects on other roads caused by tolls, nor does it assess the economic impact that tolls will have on recruiting businesses to the region and increasing costs to businesses along I-81. There is no mention of the lengthy NEPA environmental study process, nor discussion of the capital or administrative costs of tolling. It would be hasty of the General Assembly to move forward with so many unanswered questions and so few details on what an I-81 tolling program would look like.
The trucking industry supports an increase in the fuel tax as the fairest and most efficient way to fund road improvements and maintenance.
The tolling plan must still be approved by the Virginia General Assembly, which starts its session on Wednesday, January 9, but it is expected to pass.