Virginia's governor, with bipartisan backing, supports tolls for Interstate 81

Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

Virginia's governor has thrown his support behind a plan to put tolls on Interstate 81 through the state, and has a bipartisan group of legislators to push the initiative through the General Assembly.

What Governor Ralph Northam ended up backing is the same proposal that the Interstate 81 Corridor project recommended in a recent report – tolls on trucks and automobiles combined with an annual fee for autos that allows unlimited use of the road or reduced tolls for cars that don’t have that pass.  

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"The proposal would establish limits on toll rates and give automobiles and small trucks the ability to purchase an annual pass allowing unlimited use of I-81 for a fixed yearly fee," Northam was quoted as saying in a prepared statement released this morning by his office. "Revenues collected would only be used for improvements included in the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan that was adopted by the Board at its December meeting."

The plan Northam referred to was ordered by an earlier action by the Virginia General Assembly. The commission completed its work last month and forwarded the report on to the legislature. The four legislators – two senators and two members of the state House – who will introduce the bill and steer it through the legislature are all Republicans (Northam is a Democrat) – and all represent western Virginia districts that I-81 traverses on its way between Winchester in the north and Bristol (both Virginia and Tennessee) to the south.

A 15-cent toll received the most support in the report. It's a figure that is lower per mile than similar highways in other states, according to the report, and would mean that a truck traveling the entire 325-mile length of the highway would pay $48.75 during the day and $24.38 at night, when the toll would be reduced to 5 cents per mile under the same scenario. The authors of the study equated that toll to what would happen if the funding were done through an increase in the diesel tax, saying that levy would need to go to 11 percent from 6 percent to achieve the same amount of funding.

The statement from Northam's office did not specify the amount of the tolls nor of the amount of the automobile pass. In the report, it was recommended that the fee be $30 annually and the tolls for autos without the fee would be 7.5 cents per mile during the day and 5 cents per mile at night.

The commission estimated that the needs of Interstate 81 at $2.2 billion.