The Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates (ATFI) criticized the Virginia Department of Transportation for proposing to charge tolls on commercial trucks to pay for $2 billion of improvements along Interstate-81.
Virginia state transportation officials on Oct. 22 unveiled details of their I-81 improvement plan during a public hearing in Abingdon, Va. The draft plan proposes funding 72 previously identified safety and congestion improvements along the 325-mile route.
Among its recommendations, the draft plan proposes “time of day” tolling, where higher rates are charged during peak travel times, plus offering an annual pass for commuters. The plan calls for charging commercial trucks 17 cents per mile or $55.25 per truck trip for the entire I-81 corridor. According to the study, I-81 averages about 11.7 million trucks carrying $312 billion in freight.
Although the study claims the variable toll rates would generate between $135 million to $155 million annually, it fails to include an estimate of the amount of traffic that would divert off of I-81 to avoid the tolls, which would significantly diminish revenue projections, or an analysis of the economic impacts of traffic diversion.
In a letter to the Commonwealth Transportation Board, ATFI, of which NATSO is a member, said that imposing tolls on commercial trucks on I-81 will increase shipping costs for goods, suppress consumer activity, waste taxpayer dollars on bureaucratic administration, double-tax businesses, divert traffic onto local roads, and negatively impact residents and communities located around toll facilities.
“Tolling trucks using I-81 will raise costs for moving goods through the supply chain, hurting the competitiveness of local companies,” ATFI wrote. “Restaurants, convenience stores, travel plazas and gas stations operating near the interstate will face higher costs from manufacturers and shippers, who will be forced to charge more to transport goods by truck. Everyday consumers will be shouldering the burden by paying more for goods. A toll will become nothing more than an underhanded tax on the general public. Inevitably, truck tolls will have a chilling effect on consumer activity.”
ATFI also reminded the CTB that Virginia has a long history of rejecting tolls on existing interstates. Previously, the Commonwealth was one of three states that held a slot in the federal Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program (ISRRPP). Between 1998 and 2016, the period when Virginia held the ISRRPP slot, however, the Commonwealth never built a single toll under the program amid strong opposition from the public and business community. State legislators ultimately acted to pass legislation that discouraged tolling.
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