General Assembly blocks I-95 tollsPublished 5:52pm Friday, March 1, 2013
BY STEPHEN NIELSEN/CAPITAL NEWS SERVICE
RICHMOND–There will be no tolling on the southern end of Interstate 95 without the General Assembly’s say-so thanks to approval of the transportation funding bill during the recently concluded legislative session.
A plan to toll the stretch of I-95 in Sussex County, which was part of a larger federal pilot program, will be blocked by language added to the transportation bill: “No tolls shall be imposed or collected on I-95 south of Fredericksburg pursuant to the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program without the prior approval of the General Assembly.”
“From the beginning, residents of Southside Virginia knew the devastating impact that tolls on I-95 would have on public safety and our business environment,” said Del. Roslyn Tyler, D-Jarratt. “A tolling facility in Sussex would unfairly single out the hardworking people of Southside Virginia, and we are glad that it will not come to fruition. Collectively, we can claim victory.”
The pilot program was created to test tolling as a possible way to “fund needed reconstruction or rehabilitation on Interstate highway corridors that could not otherwise be adequately maintained or functionally improved without the collection of tolls,” according to the Federal Highway Administration’s website.
The Virginia Department of Transportation reserved one of three slots for the pilot program, and plans were under way to establish a tolling facility to test the idea. Involvement in the program will now require approval from the General Assembly, effectively halting such plans.
“Although I wasn’t pleased with the overall transportation plan, the elimination of tolls was one of the few bright spots in the bill,” said Delegate Chris Peace, R-Mechanicsville.
“I’m pleased that we were able to send a clear message that imposing tolls on I-95 in Sussex County was a bad idea, and more importantly, that the Virginia General Assembly will now serve as a barrier to tolls on this important transportation corridor.”
Peace sponsored a bill to require approval by the General Assembly prior to any tolling on any part of an interstate highway in operation before July. His proposal died in committee, but the transportation bill is a partial win.
“While it is not a ban on tolling, it is a clear indication that the General Assembly does not support tolling I-95,” said Dale Bennett, president and chief executive officer of the Virginia Trucking Association.
The association is part of Toll Free 95 in Virginia, an organization opposing all tolls on the interstate. Twenty-three localities, 13 business associations, five economic and planning organizations and other groups have signed Toll Free’s online petition against tolling on I-95. More than 7,000 individuals also have signed the petition.
The restrictions on tolling are contained in House Bill 2313, which cleared the Senate on Feb. 23, the final day of the legislative session. The bill, which is awaiting Gov. Bob McDonnell’s signature, raises sales taxes and overhauls fuels taxes to raise money for road and transit projects.