Filed under: Preparation & Readiness, RVing & the Legal System, Safety on the Road
ARE YOU READY FOR TOLLS ON I-95? (Virginia thinks so…….)
I-95 runs all the way from Maine to Florida. It represents the major north-south corridor along the right-hand coast of the United States. It is also a major route for RV travel as anxious vacationers head to either cooler or warmer destinations, depending upon the season.
If you are one of the millions of travelers that use this major highway, you just might want to put a few extra dollars in your cup holder because the Commonwealth of Virginia wants to put toll plazas on I-95 in Sussex County – for both north and eastbound traffic coming from and entering North Carolina.
The proposal calls for a $4 toll for cars and a $12 toll for large trucks. While it has not been stated, this typically translates to $2.50 for each additional axle beyond two. Thus, a travel trailer with twin axles being towed by a pick-up truck would pay something like $9 at the toll plaza. If crossing all 178 miles of I-95 in Virginia, this would come out to about 5-cents additional per mile of travel.
If you have traveled I-95 through Virginia recently you know that the road is in bad shape. It is pocked with haphazard patches of concrete and asphalt that can literally rattle your brains out if you are driving anything other than a softly sprung Lexus. Driving the highway in some areas in or with an RV in tow at the posted speed limit of 70 mph is unquestionably dangerous as at any moment you can hit an unmarked defect in the pavement or on a bridge that can literally cause you to lose control of your vehicle. Let’s face it – RVs were not designed to go down the road as if they are on “Pogo Sticks”.
VDOT believes it will cost at least $12.1 billion dollars to maintain the road over the next 25 years. They cite many aging bridges and overpasses that are crumbling after 50+ years of use and need replacing as one of the major costs they must address.
Tax revenues and budget allotments are projected to be only $2.5 billion for the time noted – a $10.1 billion shortfall – thus the proposal to assess an additional charge for driving on the highway.
Virginia did have toll plazas on what is now I-95 from 1958 until 1992 in the Richmond-Petersburg Metro area. The tolls were implemented before the highway became an Interstate and provided funding for bridges across the James River as well as the multi-lane roadway. When the I-295 bypass around Richmond was opened to traffic in 1992, they were discontinued. The tolls were unanimously hated by drivers on I-95 and created highway back ups that often reached for miles. Who knows how many millions of gallons of gasoline were wasted by idling vehicles waiting to pay a toll?
VDOT estimates a cost of $50 million dollars to put in the toll collection system which would include both electronic and conventional toll collection. The projected revenue from the tolls varies from $35 to $40 million a year.
In order to implement the toll collection plazas, VDOT must obtain permission from the Federal Highway Administration. Permission has yet to be granted.
Neighboring North Carolina has also applied to the Federal Highway Administration with a similar proposal to collect tolls on I-95. It is only a matter of time before other states along the I-95 corridor do the same if permission is granted for these proposals. We could, conceivably, see a cadre of toll plazas along this key highway corridor.
Personally, the proposal comes as no surprise. Virginia, like many other states, has focused on building additional roadways and bridges to relieve congestion in major metro areas around Washington, D.C. and Hampton Rhodes while letting the rest of the state’s infrastructure languish. It reminds me of the irresponsible homeowner that chooses to put in a new swimming pool while his home’s roof leaks, paint peels and foundation cracks.
Even more questionable is to propose putting the toll plazas in rural Sussex County, one of the poorest counties in our state and not so surprisingly one with the fewest voters for our office of Governor. If VDOT were serious about collecting the greatest amount of revenue to maintain the most expensive roadways you would think that they would choose Northern Virginia – an area which under the current proposal that will totally bypass the I-95 tolls unless residents choose to drive 150 miles south. But, toll plazas in Northern Virginia would create political outrage and even more traffic congestion. So, the plan is to penalize the poorer southern parts of the state for the sins of the north and east and aspiring political ambitions. The people of the southwest and southeast have been watching in dismay for the last decade as their highway tax dollars go to the more populated areas – supposedly “for the good of the Commonwealth”. How much of this “new” money will actually be spent on I-95 infrastructure rather than building more lanes and overpasses further north?
There is no question about the validity of needing to create revenue to replace our aging infrastructure. Concrete survives in the elements about 50 years before it starts to deteriorate and internal steel reinforcing rods begin to rust away. Our highway infrastructure has gone from envy to pity during the past few decades.
Perhaps charging a new use tax on top of an existing fuel tax for people that actually use the highway is a fair way to raise the revenue. But the question here is what is going to really happen. Will this be yet another politically motivated band-aid that shifts responsibility away from those that most certainly should be paying “extra” for use of this important highway?
I believe it is evident by my comments how I feel. But, as a traveler with a multi-axle RV, paying a toll to both enter and exit every state along I-95 (or any other Interstate highway) would quickly become more than an annoyance. I strongly believe it would become a barrier to commerce, a financial hardship for local businesses and commuters in the toll area and a deterrent to tourism. All of which would result in a loss of jobs, property values and tourism dollars that currently support our tax collection coffers.
What are your thoughts and feelings? Please tell us what you think of this proposal. While you are at it, why not tell us how you believe revenue should be created to fix the aging infrastructure problem.
HAPPY CAMPING TRAILS TO ALL!
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