WASHINGTON — Two Virginia groups representing local governments have joined the opposition to the plan by Gov. Bob McDonnell and the state Department of Transportation to toll Interstate 95.
The Virginia Municipal League and Virginia Association of Counties both issued statements in opposition to the plan, which was approved preliminarily under a federal pilot program and scheduled to begin next year.
The toll revenues collected from a tolling plaza south of Petersburg could raise $155 million over five years, the Virginia Department of Transportation has estimated. That money would not affect any of the commonwealth’s existing bonds, but would free up some of its federal highway trust fund revenue to be spent on other highways in Virginia, VDOT Chief Financial Officer John Lawson said at the time of the commonwealth’s application to the Federal Highway Administration.
“The state should not place new tolls on existing roads as a method to fund ongoing transportation obligations,” VML Executive Director Mike Amyx wrote in the group’s 2013 legislative program. “Further, no decision should be made to place tolls on an existing road without first evaluating the impact on other roads in the region and on the quality of the environment.”
VACo’s 2013 legislative agenda raised the issue even more specifically.
“VACo opposes the installation of toll facilities on Virginia’s interstate highways until the Commonwealth Transportation Board has thoroughly reviewed and assessed the components of a long-term capital improvement program, has identified and compared all available funding alternatives and has adopted a proposal that matches capital improvements with realistically available funding sources,” it said. “Further, VACo supports legislation to require that prior approval of the General Assembly shall be obtained before the imposition and collection of tolls on any interstate highway in Virginia.”
Although Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton has made the case that the commonwealth will need to use tolls, probably extensively, to maintain and expand the state’s roads and highways, the proposed I-95 tolling has generated resistance from a variety of sources.
The American Trucking Association has come out in opposition to the plan, as has the Mid-Atlantic branch of the American Automobile Association.
In October, several Virginia municipalities announced they had retained the law firm Kutak Rock, LLP, to represent them in fighting the tolls. Those municipalities said they are concerned that the tolls would hurt local economies and disproportionately burden low-income minority populations near the toll plaza.
Casey Werderman, a spokesman for the group No Toll Virginia I-95 said traffic would largely choose to use secondary roads to avoid paying the toll, and criticized the funding design of the project.
“Thirty-eight percent of all revenue raised in the first six years will be spent on construction, maintenance and operation of the toll, underscoring the incredible inefficiency of the proposal,” he said.
The group claims the support of thousands of individuals, 22 localities, 10 business associations, and five economic and planning organizations. Resistance to tolling I-95 is also strong in North Carolina, where two members of congress introduced legislation to prevent it.
Virginia hopes to receive final federal approval of its plan before the end of the year.