Several Virginia municipalities have retained legal counsel to fight Gov. Bob McDonnell's plan to toll Interstate 95, which commonwealth officials have said could help close a $10 billion funding gap over the next 25 years.
Virginia received preliminary approval to toll I-95 last September, when the Federal Highway Administration granted the commonwealth one of three slots, along with North Carolina and Missouri, in the Interstate Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program. The toll revenues collected from a tolling plaza south of Petersburg could raise $155 million over five years, the Virginia Department of Transportation estimated.
That money wouldn’t affect any of the commonwealth’s existing bonds, but would free up some of its federal highway trust fund revenue to address other highways in Virginia, VDOT Chief Financial Officer John Lawson said at the time of the commonwealth’s application to FHWA. Those funds could then be used for pay-as-you-go projects or to back Garvee bonds. Meanwhile the toll revenue from I-95, which Virginia is requesting to collect at a rate of $0.02 per mile, would help address serious maintenance and safety issues in the coming years, commonwealth officials maintain.
But Sussex and Greenville counties, the ities of Petersburg and Emporia, and the towns of Stony Creek and Jarratt, are not convinced, despite VDOT’s outreach efforts and presentations to local officials in recent months. These municipalities in the immediate area of the proposed toll collection sites have hired national law firm Kutak Rock, LLP to wage legal resistance to the plan. Local leaders want the FHWA to require Virginia to offer a more detailed assessment of the economic impact of potential tolls, especially on low income and minority families.
“The stakes are too high for us to sit back and let such an irresponsible plan move forward,” said Greenville County Board of Supervisors' Chairman Peggy Wiley.
Barry Steinberg, a Kutak and Rock partner and lead attorney for the municipalities, said the location of the tolling plaza was “clearly racially discriminatory,” because the surrounding area is populated mainly by lower-income minority residents.
Steinberg said he had met with FHWA representatives and expressed these concerns, and is asking them to require they be explained in a detailed environmental impact study.
Virginia is hoping to receive final tolling approval this year, so that it can begin tolling I-95 next Spring.