Shock or Yawn? Virginia’s GOP Governor Backs Highway User Fees

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), who has won over many conservatives by reviving the state’s recognition of Confederate History Month and attempting to declare the White House health care bill invalid within its borders, today proposed to add tolls to Interstate 95 along the North Carolina border.

6a00d8341c630a53ef0120a621ca48970b_600wi.jpgGov. Bob McDonnell (R-VA) (Photo: LAT)

McDonnell announced that he has asked Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to apply Virginia’s clearance to levy user fees on Interstate 81, first okayed in 2003, to Interstate 95 instead. Federal law currently requires that the U.S. DOT approve any request to toll existing interstates — a complicated process that Pennsylvania’s Democratic administration recently failed to complete for the third time.

"After a careful review of the Commonwealth [of Virginia]’s transportation needs, I
believe the ability to toll Interstate 95 at the border will quickly
enable the Commonwealth to begin addressing some of our greatest areas
of concern," McDonnell said in a statement on his move.

"Such user fees will help the Commonwealth generate the
revenue necessary to make much needed infrastructure and safety
improvements in the I-95 corridor to better serve the traveling public
and increase economic productivity." 

The state DOT has estimated that setting I-95 toll rates between $1 and $2 per vehicle axle would yield between $30 million and $60 million annually. All of the revenue would be used for roadway improvements, McDonnell’s office said today, with safety and pavement upgrades taking first priority.

Eventually, according to the governor’s statement, toll revenues could be used to add roadway capacity along the I-95 corridor.

McDonnell began his first year in office by declining to seek an immediate solution to Virginia’s transportation budget shortfall, which has swelled even as residents of the state’s denser, northern region grapple with intense road congestion. Last month, however, his administration took steps to raise money for a new transit line by selling about $500 million in transportation bonds.

  • Boris

    Can’t wait for the day when the only untolled section of I-95 will be the Cross Bronx Expressway. And knowing how Albany works, it will happen.

  • It’s weird that the toll is based on the axle count. Axle load is so much more important in road wear. The fairest practicable toll would have booths computing the vehicle’s weight m and then setting the toll proportional to m^4/c^3 where c is the number of axles. It’s not perfect, because the heaviest vehicles, 18-wheelers, concentrate the load in the back four axles instead of perfectly evenly. But it’s a lot fairer than tolling a vehicle that causes 10,000 times the road wear of a small sedan only 5 times as much.

  • Jass

    Dont worry Boris, there are no tolls north of new york, and I cant see them ever happening. Feel free to use the multi-billion dollar big dig at a cost of zero to you.

  • Jass: I-95 is tolled through both New Hampshire and the southern part of Maine.

  • stacey2545

    @ Alon Levy

    It may be fair to charge tolls based on impact, but can you imagine the uproar from the trucking industry lobbyists? They already feel threatened by bike lanes.

  • Brandi

    I don’t really get this. Why was VA permitted to toll I81 and PA was not allowed to toll I80? Was VA only going to use the money for I81 itself? It seems as if there current plan is to use money for I95 at places other than I95. Why would that be approved?

  • Brandi: yes, the I-81 tolls would have been used to pay for the then-planned I-81 widening…hence the preliminary approval. If the current plan is to use I-95 tolls on roads/areas other than I-95 itself, then it too will likely get shot down as the PA plan did.

  • It’s legal to spend road tolls on other roads. It’s just non-road spending that runs into trouble.

  • Not if they’re applying for the 3 pilot spots introduced in TEA-21. The older toll roads can get away with it because they were grandfathered in. But with these new Interstate tolling applications, the tolls have to be used on only the road in question.

  • jim

    McDonnell’s language was safety and repairs on the road and then additional roadways in the I-95 corridor. The question is going to be how closely do the uses of the toll money have to be tied to the actually existing road that’s tolled. Can it be applied to spurs and connectors: I-495, I-295, I-195? US 1 parallels I-95 for much of its length. Can tolls on I-95 be used to repair US 1? Is it OK to add a service road? A relief road?

    For that matter, VRE’s Fredericksburg line parallels I-95. Adding capacity to it reduces traffic on, therefore reduces wear on I-95 itself, reducing maintenance costs. Is that sufficiently related? The CSX east cost mainline parallels I-95. Adding capacity to it removes freight trucks from I-95, much reducing wear, much reducing maintenance costs. Is that sufficiently related?

    The I-80 tolls would have been used across the state. McDonnell’s proposing use within the corridor.

  • http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/TEA21/tollpilt.htm

    Here’s an FHWA memo paraphrasing the relevent section from TEA-21. It was perpetuated in SAFETEA-LU.

    In a nutshell, the toll revenues can only be used on the tolled facility in question. So if Virginia tries this with I-95, it could only apply to I-95 itself, not “additional roadways in the I-95 corridor”, or McDonnell will get shot down just like Pennsylvania did.

  • stacey2545

    So is McDonnell proposing this, knowing it’s a long shot, so he can say, “hey, I’m working on transportation issues”?

  • jim

    It just struck me. McDonnell wants the tolls on I-95 to pay the state’s share of the HOT lane project.

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