Why Oppose I-95 Tolling in Virginia?
Opened to traffic in 1950, I-95 currently serves 45% of Virginia’s population. It is the center of road transit in Virginia and supports three airports, two ports and the majority of Virginia’s business economy. Historically, I-95 has had some of the highest congestion rates in the country.
In April 2010, Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) submitted a proposal to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program (ISRRPP) to toll I-95. The proposal was followed by an expression of interest in January 2011 that was granted in September 2011. The ISRRPP limits the number of permits to three interstates in three different states at one time and is currently providing provisional permits to Virginia, North Carolina and Missouri.
Governor McDonnell/VDOT Proposal
Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is proposing a single tolling location in Sussex County between mile markers 20 and 24. The VDOT plan calls for a $4 toll for personal vehicles and a $12 toll for trucks. Exit and entrance ramps before and after the toll plaza will collect $2 from personal vehicles and $6 from trucks. VDOT has claimed that they could look at further tolling locations on I-95 in the future.
Why Tolls on I-95 are a Bad Idea
The Existing Interstate Highway System Should Remain Toll Free - Since its creation, the Interstate System has been financed under the philosophy that fuel taxes are the preferred method to collect revenue for interstates. Tolling (other than on Interstate segments that pre-date the establishment of the Interstate System in 1956) has been limited to the reconstruction or replacement of Interstate bridges and tunnels. In 1991, Congress created a pilot program which allows tolling on existing Interstates in urban areas for the purpose of reducing congestion through time-of-day pricing. So far, no existing Interstate lane – other than HOV lanes – has been tolled under this program. In 1998, Congress authorized three toll pilot projects, one in each of three states, on the Interstate System. To date, none of the three projects has been implemented.
The Public, By a Wide Margin, Opposes Tolls on Existing Interstates - In a national survey commissioned by ABC/Time/Washington Post, 88% of responders opposed a toll to drive into city centers, and 68% opposed using tolls to control congestion. A 2010 poll by AAA found that when given options for funding state transportation projects, only 14% of Virginia drivers supported placing tolls on I-95. In addition, unscientific polls of readers of the internet editions of two major Virginia newspapers oppose tolls on I-95 by a margin of 3 to 1. In the Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk) poll, 72% of 2,168 votes, and in the Richmond Times-Dispatch poll, 76% of 1,404 votes oppose the Governor’s proposal to impose tolls on I-95.
Tolling is the Most Inefficient Way to Generate Transportation Revenue - Toll collection requires a large and extremely expensive bureaucracy as well as capital, operational and enforcement costs. On major toll roads, toll collection costs are as high as 22% to 30% of revenue versus 2 - 3% of revenue for collecting state and federal motor fuel taxes. Even on newer toll roads that utilize the latest technologies, collection costs are significant compared with the federal fuel tax, ranging between 12% and 20% of revenue.
Under VDOT’s I-95 Toll Plan, 38% of the toll revenue collected in the first six years will be spent to pay for the capital, operating and maintenance cost of the toll collection system. During the first 25 years of toll collection, nearly 16% of the total revenue will be diverted to pay for collecting the tolls.
While many see tolling as a way to avoid raising taxes, tolls certainly are taxes and imposing them is not a “conservative” or efficient way to finance highways.
The VDOT/Governor's Plan Unfairly Shifts Highway Funds from the I-95 Corridor to Other Parts of Virginia – One condition of federal approval of the Governor's I-95 Toll Plan is that Virginia cannot use interstate maintenance funds on any part of I-95 that is tolled. This requires VDOT to take interstate maintenance funds away from I-95 and shift the money to other parts of the state. Yet, citizens in the I-95 corridor will continue to have to pay fuel taxes to Washington and Richmond plus a toll every time they use the road.
Tolls on I-95 Would Impose a Significant Cost on Trucking and the Businesses They Serve in Virginia - The trucking industry is highly competitive and the imposition of an additional highway use tax of this magnitude simply cannot be fully passed along to shippers. In addition, trucking already pays 35% of the federal and state highway user fees collected for Virginia, but account for only 8% of total miles traveled in the state. This toll proposal would impose as much as an additional $22.9 million dollar tax increase on the trucking industry.
The trucking industry currently pays a federal diesel fuel tax of 24.4 cents per gallon, a 12% excise tax on new tractors and trailers, an annual vehicle use tax of up to $550, and a tax on tires. In 2008, the trucking industry accounted for over $311 million (32%) of state highway user taxes paid directly to Virginia and almost $382 million (37%) of the federal highway user taxes collected and allocated to the Commonwealth. Imposing an even greater tax burden on trucking companies that operate in Virginia through tolls on existing would be both unfair and inequitable.
Tolls on I-95 will Create an Economic Disadvantage for Southside Virginia - Although trucking companies will not be able to pass along 100% of their toll costs to serve Southside Virginia, they will have to pass along as much of the toll costs as they can. The result will be higher shipping costs for industries and businesses located in Southside Virginia to receive raw materials and ship their finished products. This will put this region of the Commonwealth at a disadvantage in attracting new businesses and industries to provide much-needed jobs for the area’s citizens. The April 2012 unemployment rates in counties whose citizens and businesses will be most impacted by VDOT’s I-95 toll plans are all higher than the overall Virginia unemployment rate: Sussex County – 7.9%; Greensville County – 8.9%; and City of Emporia – 10.3%.
Tolls on I-95 will create two classes of drivers, those who can afford to pay a toll and those who cannot. The low-income residents of Southside Virginia will be economically prohibited from using a road that their highway fuel taxes paid to build.
Tolls on I-95 will Cause Diversion of Traffic to Local Roads - Tolls on I-95 will cause diversion of traffic to local roads less suited to handle higher traffic volumes. North Carolina estimates that tolling their portion of I-95 result in diversion of 30% of traffic to other roads. Ohio significantly reduced tolls on the Ohio Turnpike in 2005 after finding that large numbers of trucks were using parallel non-tolled routes that were less safe than the Turnpike. A VDOT study of the 2003 plan to put truck tolls on I-81 in Virginia found that under the toll rates being considered, more than half of the trucks and at least three-quarters of truck vehicle miles would shift to alternate routes. Under a conservative toll rate, the study predicted that approximately 26% of truck miles would shift to routes outside the Commonwealth – which would cause the state to lose revenue it receives under International Registration Plan (IRP) and International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA).