By Amanda Iacone | Virginia Statehouse News
RICHMOND — Virginia drivers may be asked to pay tolls along Interstate 95, but the revenue from the tolls would contribute little to needed road maintenance and construction throughout the state.
Gov. Bob McDonnell
is turning to tolls to generate $30 million to $60 million a year, which would help cover the $40 million to $50 million the state spends for maintaining I-95 annually.
Virginia, then, can redirect the federal highway money it receives for I-95 to other roadwork projects statewide.
“The proposed tolls are user fees that will provide for much needed transportation
improvements and projects along the corridor …,” said McDonnell spokesman Paul Logan
. “These tolls will also capture revenue from out-of-state tractor trailers and personal vehicles that use the roadway.”
However, this amount is a drop in the proverbial bucket to address the state's roadway issues. McDonnell pushed through a $4 billion transportation package last year, which largely depends on borrowing against federal grants and future tax revenue to pay for about 900 projects statewide.
“The tolls are not going to be the answer people think they are going to be,” said Sen. Chuck Colgan
, D-Prince William
. “Fifty million dollars just doesn’t do much toward building a road.”
Advocates argue that anticipated toll revenue will not address the numerous infrastructure needs in the state’s transportation system, while taxpayers, who use the I-95 corridor between Richmond and Washington, D.C., question why they must pay tolls to maintain a federal road that's already paid for.
Driving estimated revenue
The Virginia Department of Transportation, or VDOT, used traffic counts on I-95 to determine that the state could generate the $30 million to $60 million in toll revenue.
The state is authorized to put toll plazas along Interstate 95 from the North Carolina border to Fredericksburg. The Federal Highway Administration gave initial approval for two tolling locations in Virginia, the McDonnell administration said last week.
Virginia Statehouse News did some back of the envelop calculations using VDOT's 2009 daily traffic
figures, the most recent data available, that show:
Each day 39,000 vehicles cross the North Carolina-Virginia border. If all of those vehicles were minivans paying $2 per crossing, the state would generate $29 million in tolls per year, according to Virginia Statehouse News calculations.
Each day 59,000 vehicles drive through Spotsylvania County and Fredericksburg. If all of those vehicles were minivans paying $2 each, the state would generate $43 million in tolls annually, according to Virginia Statehouse News calculations.
The state anticipates traffic on the interstate will drop by 10 percent, as motorists use alternate routes to avoid the tolls, said Shannon Marshall, VDOT spokeswoman.
The state will spend the next two years pinpointing the specific site for each toll plaza and firming up how much it will cost to operate and build the plazas.
Reaction to the tolls
Virginia’s combined construction and maintenance needs stretch well into the billions of dollars, said Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance, which advocates for regional and state transportation improvements.
Toll revenue “doesn’t really address the bigger question, the bigger need which is significantly greater longer-term sustainable funding for both construction and maintenance,” Chase said.
In addition, the transportation alliance and AAA Mid-Atlantic support using tolls to pay for new lanes and new bridges that increase capacity, but not tolls on existing highways.
“Although we understand the dire need for transportation funding in the commonwealth, AAA doesn’t believe that tolling should be imposed on the existing capacity, especially on the interstate,” said Windy VanCuren, spokeswoman for AAA Mid-Atlantic, which advocates for motorists.