Va. Gov. Ralph Northam on Jan. 8 announced plans to place tolls on existing lanes along Interstate 81 to fund $2.2 billion in improvements to the western Virginia highway.
The proposed tolling plan requires federal approval due to the federal prohibition on tolling existing Interstates funded by federal dollars. It also faces stiff opposition from the business community, including truckstops and travel plazas, the trucking industry and the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates.
"Virginia has a long history of rejecting tolls on existing interstates," said ATFI spokesperson Stephanie Kane. "Unfortunately, Virginia policymakers are again steering toward an old idea in hopes of arriving at a different conclusion than in years past."
The Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) recently submitted two proposals to the Virginia General Assembly to fund I-81 improvements. The proposals included tolling or a regional tax increase on the sales and use tax of 0.7% and a regional fuel tax increase of 2.1%.
The tolling option endorsed by Gov. Northam would target tolls on trucks over local residents and run the entire length of the 325-mile corridor from Winchester to Bristol.
CTB proposed a toll rate of 17 cents per mile, with toll rates capped for smaller cars and trucks used by local commuters. Drivers of smaller vehicles also would be able to buy an annual pass for a fixed fee of potentially $30, although an actual price has not been set.
Volvo Trucks, which operates its largest manufacturing facility in the world in Dublin, Va., sharply criticized the tolling option in an editorial in The Roanoke Times, writing that manufacturers on I-81 will face a competitive disadvantage if tolls are levied on every shipment they make and receive in their home state.
Tolls raise shipping costs, which ultimately increase costs to consumers. Trucks also often divert onto local routes to avoid the tolls, putting them on roads that weren’t designed to handle commercial vehicles and creating safety concerns.
“Disrupted logistics and lower shipping volume are some of the consequences of tolls,” Franky Marchand, Vice President and General Manager of Volvo Group Truck Operations, wrote. "These consequences would lead to the kind of uncertainty that’s problematic for any business, not just manufacturers — making it more difficult to estimate logistics flows and costs when considering plans for expansion, renovations or other changes. Tolls will throw the corridor’s existing and future economy into flux.”
Marchand cited the neighboring state of Pennsylvania, where turnpike tolls have increased every year for the past 11 years, as an example of where tolls are driving business away from a state. “In Pennsylvania, where the Volvo Group’s Mack Trucks and Volvo Construction Equipment facilities are located, the state is experiencing ‘toller’s remorse,’” he wrote
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