Va. State Senators Mark Obenshain and Charles Carrico introduced SB 1716 Jan. 16 to authorize the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) to impose tolls on Interstate 81 and deposit the revenues into an Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Fund. Del. Steve Landes, R-Augusta, and Del. Terry Austin, R-Botetourt, also submitted legislation in the House of Delegates.
The Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates (ATFI), of which NATSO is a founding member, urged the Virginia General Assembly to reject the measure, calling the bill a poorly designed piece of legislation that would have many negative consequences for the state.
“Tolls have many unintended consequences that will disproportionately burden families and businesses along I-81,” ATFI said in a statement to media. “Tolling I-81 is the least desirable funding mechanism available, and the General Assembly should continue Virginia’s long history of rejecting tolls on existing interstates by voting ‘no’ on SB 1716.”
Much like the proposal put forth earlier this month by CTB, SB 1716 calls for tolling commercial vehicles at a proposed rate of 17 cents per mile and for issuing annual passes for cars and passenger trucks. Annual passes would not be available to commercial vehicles. Six toll gantries would be placed along the 300 plus miles of I-81, about one every 50 miles.
CTB had submitted two proposals to the Virginia General Assembly to consider for funding 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%. Gov. Ralph Northam on Jan. 8 endorsed the tolling option.
Any tolling plan requires federal approval due to the federal prohibition on tolling existing Interstates funded by federal dollars.
In its statement, ATFI said imposing tolls on I-81 would increase shipping costs for goods, suppress consumer activity, waste revenues on bureaucratic administration and double-tax businesses. Furthermore, tolls would divert traffic onto local roads and negatively impact residents.
ATFI further blasted Gov. Northam’s plan to toll Interstate 81 in Virginia as details emerged that the plan is likely unlawful under the U.S. Constitution. In a letter sent to the Governor from the American Trucking Associations (ATA), ATA argues how allowing for an auto-only commuter pass along I-81 may create an impermissible burden on interstate commerce.
In a move that could signal their intention to sue, ATA lays out three ways in which the tolling plan is designed to favor in-state motorists at the expense of out-of-state interests:
• User fees will bear no relationship to use of the tolled roads
• Tolls on commercial vehicles will be excessive in relation to the benefits conferred
• The plan favors noncommercial vehicles over commercial vehicles, which power interstate commerce
“We encourage you and the Assembly to think carefully about these issues before Virginia takes any further steps in the direction it appears to be heading, and to bear in mind that the auto-only annual pass option will be vulnerable to a legal challenge if it moves forward,” ATA General Counsel and Executive Vice President of Legal Affairs Jennifer Hall wrote in the letter to Gov. Northam.
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