Tolling I-95 Will Further Virginia’s Transportation Problems; Not Solve Them

In a recent commentary in The Richmond Times-Dispatch, columnist Jeff Schapiro outlines the growing opposition to tolls on I-95.  It’s worth noting that opposition is growing for good reason.  If Governor McDonnell puts tolls on I-95 and continues his efforts to turn Virginia into the “Tolled Dominion” the following will happen:

•    Localities along the I-95 corridor in Virginia will be forced to spend millions of dollars more for local road repairs after 80,000 pound trucks and increased car traffic attempt to avoid the toll and divert from the interstate onto local roads.
•    Those in localities surrounding the toll will face increased safety risks due to the traffic diversion.
•    Those living along I-85, I-81 and 301 should expect to see significantly greater truck and car traffic volumes as a result of tolls on I-95.
•    Businesses along I-95 will be put at a competitive disadvantage compared to competitors along other interstates as a result of this government policy that selects winners and losers.  It will put Virginia’s business-friendly reputation at risk and cost the Commonwealth jobs.
Tolls are taxes plain and simple. Moreover, tolls are the most inefficient method of taxation.  Virginia needs to look at all of their options for collecting revenue for transportation, but tolls on I-95 are an option that lacks common sense.

VDOT has forecasted that 38% of toll revenue collected in the first six years will be lost to pay for construction, maintenance and operations of collection compared to less than 1% collection cost associated with the fuel tax collected at the wholesale level. In other words, when $1 million in toll revenue is collected, $380,000 ends up not going toward transportation improvements. With the fuel tax, however, for every $1 million collected in fuel tax, only $10,000 is lost to administrative costs.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch commentary points in part to more fuel efficient cars as the reason for the infrastructure funding shortage that Virginia is facing; however, the fact that the state excise tax on fuel has failed to keep pace with rising inflation and increased construction costs is a better culprit.  The problem is that the purchasing power of the fuel tax has fallen off considerably. That explains Mr. Schapiro’s comment that Virginia drivers are basically paying a fuel tax that is .08 cents less than it was in 1986. Think of it this way, if someone was to earn a salary in 1986 and that salary had not been adjusted since, the individual’s salary would effectively be much less now than it was in 1986 because the cost of everything else has increased considerably since then.

Raising revenue for transportation is critical to the economic vitality of the Commonwealth, but tolling I-95 will only serve to further Virginia’s transportation problems, not solve them.

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