Virginia Transportation Legislation A Victory for NATSO, ATA and Tolling Opponents

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The Virginia General Assembly on Saturday approved landmark transportation legislation, which includes a provision to require legislative approval on tolls on I-95 south of Fredericksburg, a major victory for NATSO, the American Trucking Associations and the grassroots coalition that have been fighting the state's tolling proposal for more than a year. The transportation legislation puts an end to the Virginia Department of Transportation’s plan to toll I-95 and demonstrates growing opposition to tolls on existing interstates. 

“By looking at, then rejecting tolls in favor of more efficient revenue sources, Virginia lawmakers have provided a solid example for states looking to finance needed transportation infrastructure,” ATA President and CEO Bill Graves said. 

ATA and NATSO joined forces about a year ago to fight tolling proposals in Virginia and North Carolina. Both states sought the authority to toll I-95 under the Interstate Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Program, a Federal Highway Administration pilot program created by Congress in 1998 that allows the conversion of an existing interstate to a toll facility. Since the program was created, numerous states have spent millions of dollars seeking FHWA approval. But due to public opposition, among other reasons, not one state has implemented tolling under the program. ATA and NATSO are calling on Congress to repeal the pilot program. 

NATSO President and CEO Lisa Mullings praised the action of the General Assembly in addressing transportation funding and rolling back the state's tolling initiative. "Tolls would have unjustly burdened businesses located along Interstate 95, and encouraged tourists to bypass the state. Today's action will send a message that Virginia is open for business and tourism," she said. 

Mullings said the state's plan to toll I-95 at a single location a few miles from the North Carolina border is akin to a border tax. "Now is not the time to tax tourists and businesses and we hope North Carolina, which is also considering tolling on I-95, will follow Virginia's lead," she said. 

“While no plan is perfect, Virginia’s sound rejection of tolling should be a model for other states,” Graves said. “I’ve long said ‘Roads aren’t free and they aren’t cheap,’ and we have to as a country figure out the best way to pay for them. 

“While Wall Street finance wizards and so-called ‘free market’ advocates will continue to beat the drum for tolling, as a former Governor, I can tell you tolls are not the conservative solution to paying for our roads,” he said. “New tolls mean new bureaucracy and new inefficiency, and in some cases they mean new danger as traffic diverts from toll roads to smaller secondary routes. We’re pleased that Virginians recognize this and made the right decision for Virginians and interstate travelers.” 

The highly public campaign in opposition to tolling I-95 included yard signs, billboards, bumper stickers, shopping bags, three trucks and a water tower in opposition to Governor McDonnell’s plan to toll I-95. Twenty-three localities, thirteen business associations, five economic and planning organizations and numerous businesses and public safety groups joined over 7,000 individuals who signed the online petition at www.virginiatollfree95.com in opposition to the Governor’s proposal to toll I-95 in Virginia. 

In addition to the tolling provisions, the legislation reforms the state's fuel tax system, replacing the current 17.5 cents per gallon tax on gasoline with a 3.5 percent wholesale tax paid by distributors and a 6 percent wholesale tax on diesel fuel. It would also increase the 5 percent retail sales and use tax paid on most purchases to 5.3 percent.

Photo Credit: Amy Toner/NATSO

 

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This article originally ran in NATSO News Weekly (NNW), NATSO's member only weekly electronic newsletter. NNW is packed with the latest updates on government and business issues affecting the truckstop and travel plaza industry.

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