Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam hopes to fund $2.2 billion worth of improvements along the Interstate 81 corridor with tolls along the highway. The plan revealed this week received some bipartisan support, and some are seeing this as a way to raise revenue without a tax increase.
“Public money simply isn’t there in the amounts needed for upgrading our highway system, including I-81,” Mike Thompson, the president of the Virginia-based, free-market Thomas Jefferson Institute told Watchdog.org. “Tolls are user fees and make sense. Other revenue sources are increased taxes and that is not in the cards.”
A user fee is a fee or tax implemented in a way so that it requires users of a service or good to provide funding for it rather than an entire population. It is often an alternative to creating a collective tax, which would force people who do not use the service to pay into it.
With Rotham's plan, trucks would be charged no more than 17-cents-per-mile with tolls, while cars would be charged no more than 11-cents-per-mile. For trucks, this could cost about $55 to go the full length of the 325-mile-long part of the highway in the commonwealth and for cars, about $36. Rates would vary based on time of day and night-time travel would be cheaper. Owners of both cars and trucks would have the option to purchase an annual pass under the proposal to save money if they travel frequently. The specific cost of the pass has not yet been announced.
All of the money raised with the tolls would go to the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan adopted by the Commonwealth Transportation Board in December.
“Interstate 81 is the economic engine of western Virginia, and it’s time we take decisive action to enhance the safety and improve the reliability of this key corridor,” Northam said. “I am committed to working with legislators on both sides of the aisle to establish a dedicated funding source that will support the critical improvements that Interstate 81 needs to move goods and people around the Commonwealth.”
Some Republican members of the General Assembly also support tolls.
“We have a tremendous opportunity to address longstanding issues on the I-81 Corridor,” Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg said. “I will continue to work with the Northam administration and with my colleagues in the General Assembly in hope that we can find bipartisan solutions to the critical reliability and safety issues in this region of the Commonwealth.”
“The hard-working citizens in the communities on the I-81 Corridor deserve a viable, long-term solution to the challenges of travel along this route,” Del. Steve Landes, R-Weyers Cave said. “A focus on key improvements and dedicated funding for the corridor will positively affect those who rely on it every day.”
The bill is expected to be introduced by Republican members of both chambers of the General Assembly. Sens. Obenshain and Bill Carrico, R-Grayson are expected to introduce the plan into the Senate. Dels. Landes and Terry Austin, R-Buchanan are expected to introduce the plan into the House.