Bob McDonnell is apparently considering putting a toll plaza at the North Carolina border:
Faced with crumbling roads and lacking the money to repair them, Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell has asked for federal permission to impose tolls on the southern reaches of Interstate 95.
In an appeal to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, McDonnell (R) estimated that tolls of $2 to $4 on I-95 near the North Carolina border could raise $30 million to $60 million a year.
“Right now, we’re just contemplating one toll facility at the North Carolina border,” said Sean T. Connaughton, Virginia’s transportation secretary. “We selected that location because most of the traffic is interstate.”
If the request is approved, it would be 18 to 24 months before toll collection could begin, he said. The state had approval for a trucks-only toll scheme on Interstate 81, but, Connaughton said, facing “an enormous amount of opposition,” authorities asked to toll all vehicles on I-95.
He said that authorization could allow tolling as far north as Fredericksburg but that “right now, we’re just contemplating the one toll facility.”
It’s certainly a tempting idea for any state. After all, Maryland and Delaware each generate approximately $ 30 million in toll revenue each year from their tolls on Interstate 95, and the New Jersey Turnpike regularly generates toll revenue in excess of $ 500,000,000 a year.
The downside, of course, is one that anyone familiar with the drive from Washington, D.C. to New York City is familiar with. Toll plazas cause traffic delays, sometimes massive traffic delays on high volume days. This problem has been somewhat alleviated by the advent of EZ-Pass and other electronic tolling systems, but that often doesn’t provide much of an advantage on roads that are only two lanes in each direction, which is the case on I-95 at the Virginia/North Carolina border.
It’s also worth noting that once a state begins tolling on major roads, it becomes inevitable that the practice will be expanded. The tolls on the Garden State Parkway, for example, were originally only intended to last long enough to finance construction of the road. That goal was reached decades ago, but the tolls are still there, as anyone who attempts the trek from North and Central Jersey down to the Jersey Shore on a summer weekend can attest. Once that toll plaza is in, it will be there forever, and, as Connaughton himself says, it’s likely to be expanded. Today I-95, tomorrow what ? I-85 ? I-64 ? I-81 ?
There is one restriction, of course, any tolls collected on Interstate 95 could not be used for any other part of the state transportation budget:
The Federal Highway Administration rejected a similar request last month from Pennsylvania, which sought to charge tolls on Interstate 80. The state wanted to use revenue from that highway, which spans the northern half of Pennsylvania on the way from New Jersey to California, to fund other transportation projects.
LaHood said no, citing federal law that says any tolls collected on an interstate must be used exclusively for the highway where they are collected.
So, this couldn’t be a cash cow for the State of Virginia, but along with the HOT lanes being constructed on the Capital Beltway, it does appear that tolls are the wave of the future in terms of finding a source of revenue to maintain roads that are badly in need of repair.