By Whitney Spicer, Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Ten members of the Virginia House of Delegates have written a joint letter to the state’s congressional delegation, urging the federal legislators to join in opposing VDOT’s plans to charge tolls on Interstate 95.
Delegate John Cox, R-Ashland, one of the delegates who signed the letter, believes that placing tolls on I-95, as the Virginia Department of Transportation has proposed, is not the best option for increasing road revenue.
“Tolls are a tax that is imposed disproportionately. In other words, citizens that live the closest to the toll plazas will pay more in road taxes even though many of them may drive less miles than others living farther from the toll plazas,” Cox said, according to a legislative aide.
The letter signed by Cox and other delegates listed other reasons for opposing the tolls, including the possible environmental and economic impact.
The document stated that tolls on I-95 would cause 35-40 percent of the interstate’s traffic to divert onto local roads in an attempt to avoid the charges. It also said tolling would cost jobs and hurt businesses in Virginia.
Currently, the proposed tolling plan includes a single tolling location in Sussex County in the Tidewater area near North Carolina. But the delegates believe this will just be the first step in implementing tolling throughout the state.
“Localities along all of Virginia’s interstates should thoughtfully consider the precedent that this plan will set for future tolling facilities,” the letter stated.
Caroline County has been considered as an alternative tolling location within Virginia.
According to Cox, “There has been some discussion within VDOT that a toll plaza might be in Caroline’s future. The citizens of Caroline that commute on I-95 would pay a significant toll tax, and receive less in road maintenance funds in return.”
Cox believes there are better ways to raise road revenue than the use of tolls, such as raising the fuel tax.
“The excise tax is paid by everyone that drives a motor vehicle on the highways,” he said. “The more you drive, the more you pay. And if you don’t use the roads, you don’t pay.”
Cox considers this to be a much better source of transportation funding than the implementation of toll plazas.
“The fuel tax is much more efficient in that the revenue is already being collected by fuel retailers,” Cox said, “The state doesn’t have to establish toll plazas, or a bureaucracy to administer the collection of tolls.”
Cox is not the only one who oppose VDOT’s plan to toll I-95. According to the letter sent by the delegates, numerous groups and citizens have expressed opposition to tolling. They include 23 local governments, 15 statewide business associations, five economic and planning authorities, public safety organizations and private businesses, and more than 6,800 individuals, the letter said.
The letter was written after Delegate Christopher Peace, R-Hanover, submitted a bill that would require the General Assembly’s approval before charging tolls on any interstate highway. Two other bills in the House also would prohibit tolling in Virginia without the General Assembly’s approval.
Besides Cox and Peace, the letter was signed by Delegates Bob Brink, John O’Bannon, Rosalyn Dance, Roslyn Tyler, Tommy Wright, Roxann Robinson, Gordon Helsel and Lee Ware.