Tolls on I-95 come slightly closer to realityPolicyVirginia

The Governor’s office has issued a press release touting the Federal Highway Administration’s approval of a study to determine whether the state can erect tolls on interstate 95 at the North Carolina/Virginia border. But there’s still a very long way to go before that first toll booth gets built:

By granting VDOT conditional provisional approval, USDOT is reserving a slot in the Interstate Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program. This reservation will allow VDOT to undertake necessary studies. The Interstate Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program is a federal demonstration program that provides authority for only three states to toll Interstate facilities. Once the statutory provisions of the program are satisfied, the opportunity for tolling will be available.

“VDOT will work closely with FHWA to complete the steps outline by Administrator Mendez, as well as any necessary environmental documents,” said VDOT Commissioner Greg Whirley. “Our goal is to complete these steps as quickly as possible so we can develop and implement a satisfactory toll agreement with the FHWA.”

In other words, it’s highly likely Gov. McDonnell will be long out of office before beach-goers, snowbirds and the occasional Canadian have the chance (and reason) to take his name in vain as they scrounge for the quarters the state will demand before allowing them entry to Virginia.

Tolls on existing roads like I-95 have the advantage of (potentially) generating tidy sums for the collectors. Sure enough, the McDonnell administration believes it can reap “…$250 million over the first five years of the toll program and over $50 million annually thereafter.” Perhaps so. This depends a great deal, though, on people not engaging in shunpiking (for the curious, there’s an entire website devoted to the practice of avoiding tolls).

A greater concern, though, is perception. Applying a toll to a road drivers already perceive as paid for — through gas taxes — makes the tolling authority seem rather grasping, if not downright greedy (Delaware, I’m looking at you). Yes, there can be little question I-95 is in need of maintenance, widening, and more. but why only toll at the NC/VA border? The real cash is on the northern end of the interstate. But that’s logistically difficult and politically poisonous.

Tolls have existed on Virginia’s stretch of I-95 in the past. The former Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike tolled traffic from 1958 to 1992. It raised more than $500 million during that time, and the monies were used, in part, to retire the bonds used to construct the road (which itself was built to alleviate congestion in the Richmond area).

With the possible return of the toll booth, it could be back to the future…give or take three years.

  • Mike Barrett

    Gosh, I sure hope not. Toll revenue would only be available for use on that particular Interstate, not for the state as a whole; another flawed transfer of payments from Southsside to NoVa. The substitution of toll revenue for fuel tax revenue will be economically damaging for us in Hampton Roads. It is curious that our Legislative delegation would be pushing PPVs and tolls just after NoVa received billions for the mixing bowl and the bridge over the Potomac at Alexandria (Woodrow Wilson Bridge?) I guess our delegation is so invisible and ineffective that the rest of the state can do anything they want to us and they will simply acquiesce. But hey, we can now bring our own wine into fine restaurants. Fair trade?

  • Britt Howard

    Bad idea!
    If you want to toll, do it on a NEW ROAD!

    I have to agree with Mike on one thing. The reps and state senators from our area consantly get rolled over by NOVA and the rest of the state on transportation and it’s fair share of state revenue. Maybe they can talk them into HRTA again. First you just get ripped off, then scammed into taxing yourselves for what you should already be getting.

  • HisRoc

    Mike and Bret,

    I am afraid that you have been reading too much of Jeff Schapiro in the RTD and eating up his cherry-picked statistics. He often makes a big deal out of the fact that northern Virginia receives more in transportation spending than it contributes in “transportation revenue.” What he breezily ignores is the overall imbalance of total tax revenues from northern Virginia, esp. income taxes, compared with total state expenditures in the region. Northern Virginia is and always will be the cash cow for the Commonwealth. It is simply a good business plan to invest in infrastructure in a region that contributes so much to the General Fund. Allowing traffic congestion to choke off economic activity in northern Virginia chokes the flow of tax revenue to Richmond.

    Having said that, I agree that this I-95 toll idea is a really bad one. As a frequent traveler to New York and New Jersey, I find the traffic back-ups at the toll plazas to be the single biggest headache of the trip, even with my EZ Pass. Raise the fuel tax a penny and keep the roads open.

  • Britt Howard

    HisRc, I agree with you. NOVA is huge on the revenue side. Your point is very valid. However, the state also gets a lot of revenue from Hampton Roads. Far more than comes from most of the state. Hampton Roads(Tidewater) gets ripped off. Pure and simple. I don’t really mean to blame NOVA. More like point out that they get something on that end and our side doesn’t.

    I think in a recent budget I saw that this area was getting some projects funded. A reason to be more optimistic. That is not the norm for us. It would be better if I made it more clear that our issue is with the state at large.

    Heck, the rest of the state even wants the local area to fit the bill for improved road infrastructure for the STATE OWNED port expansion. Yes, we’re a part of it bu so is the rest of the state that owns the port and would benefit from the increased revenue. We really(figuratively) do have a “sucker” sign painted on the map of Hampton Roads.

  • P. Henry Saddleburr

    Considering that Federal employees are remunerated at a rate far greater than those of us in the private sector and that many also receive additional monies to cover their commutes from Nova from our federal tax dollars, I say we put the toll booths on all bridges leading into DC.

    Additionally, an pre-entry turnstile for all northbound Metro routes could exact additional monies.

    Let’s put it to them scurvy bilge rats, aye! If it’s piracy them land lubbers want, Let’s give’m an empty wallet and a stiff shiver with our blunderbusses! Arrrr! There’s piratin’ to be done, mateys!

    Thus ends the convergence of National Talk Like a Pirate Day and discussions of a new toll on I-95.


  • HisRoc


    Don’t get me wrong. I might live in Fairfax County, but I was born and raised in Tidewater Virginia, the son of generations of pre-revolutionary war settlers of the Chesapeake. And your point about the ports is well-taken; what the heck would those southwest coal companies do without the coal piers on Lamberts Point, for example?

    My point is that the economy of northern Virginia is not driven solely by Defense spending. Thanks to the entire Federal government, not just the DoD, we have become the Eastern Silicon Valley. And, like our cousins out on the Left Coast, we pay a disproportional share of our state budget. All we ask for in return is not to spend an hour commuting 15 miles or less.

  • Britt Howard

    Henry, we already have piracy and tolls on the way to and from NC. I think they call it Emporia! I have never been nabbed for speeding there, but I hear the horror stories.

  • Tim J

    Virginia could mandate standardized, universal EZ pass devices to be installed in all cars sold in Virginia and then set up as many toll stations as they want to pay for whatever they wanted to waste money on. They could set up more readers on every overpass, bridge and tunnel to nail you both coming and going and could even set them up on the side roads using light poles and traffic lights right next to the intersection cameras to catch the “shunpikers”. Everyone who travels the highways would pay their “fair share” and Virginia would have so much money they could fix all the roads and give back the surplus to the Federal Government to offset Obamacare mandates for all Virginians.

  • LittleDavid

    If the tollbooths on the state line ever come to fruition it is my hope that either the OOIDA (Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association), the ATA (American Trucking Association) or the VTA (Virginia Trucking Association) challenges it in court as being an unconstitutional tax on interstate commerce. Only the interstate traffic will pay the toll while intrastate traffic will travel for free.

    If for some reason they are reluctant to do so, I myself will explore launching a class action lawsuit for the benefit of all the truckers injured by the illegal toll. It only takes one trucker engaged in interstate traffic with a toll receipt to get the ball rolling, and I will provide that.

  • Tim J

    LD, you may have a slight toe hold on that one… Saenz v. Roe, 526 U.S. 489 (1999).

  • HisRoc

    Little David,

    You and Tim J deserve each other. May I suggest that you hire this wannabe as your lead counsel, assuming that he actually has a license to practice law.

    Under your reasoning, every toll road in the United States, from the New Jersey Turnpike to the Powhite Parkway in Richmond is unconstitutional. Gee, isn’t anyone paying attention?

    There is a wealth of Supreme Court case law on Interstate Commerce that is against you. I suggest that you and Tim J start by reviewing the Court’s holdings on highway weigh stations. As they say at UVA, it will be enlightening.

    Saenz v. Roe. That is like citing Roe v. Wade in an illegal search petition. Yeah, privacy is an issue, but the connection between the two is one hell of a stretch.

  • William Bailey

    I’d support the tolls on I95 aslong as it was at both ends of the state.

    But it is interesting to see Gov. Bob has started raising taxes thru the use of tolls. Atleast he sees that we have to raise more money if we are going to repay his 620 million VRS “loan.”

  • Wally Erb

    Where are all the Grover Norquist disciples?

    Webster defines toll; a tax or fee paid for some liberty or privilege (as of passing over a highway or bridge).

    Hence, regardless of how you spin it, it lowers disposable income and increases government revenue. Hampering monetary velocity, taxes directly handicap the economy. Governor McDonnnell’s increased borrowing and imposing additional revenues will be sorely felt by future administrations and generations.

  • Tim J

    Roc, and where did you get your JD? Oh, yeah… from some online correspondence course while you were sitting in the middle of a military warehouse in Germany trying to make Col.?

  • Mike Barrett

    I am not opposed to tolls per se, but for general use facilities that are necessary and required for a local economy, I think they are unfair and depress property value and business activity. The PPVs and high tolls proposed for Hampton Roads will re-balkanize our region into two separate areas, and neither will be on the radar screen for national tenants and businesses. The legislature’s failure to index our gas tax to inflation is why we have seriously depreciated roads, highways, bridges, and tunnels while North Carolina is sitting pretty. Has it hurt them to pay double the tax we pay? Heck no, and gas prices there aren’t much more anyway. Only in Virginia does the intrasigence of the republicans in the House trump common sense. Frankly, the bozos in our delegation collectively are not worth one cup of warm spit in regard to required investments in transportation infrastructure.

  • LarryG

    Geeze – not a word a about a no-tax Gov seeking “tolls”?

    and BLASPHEMY! Calls to increase the gas tax in Bearing Drift?

    I’m aghast!

  • LittleDavid


    Every other toll is for the entire length of the tollway, not at one end. There are exceptions, like bridges over waterways at state lines, but in these cases, the tolls go towards paying for the construction and maintenance of the bridge. There are bridge authorities were tolls from multiple bridges are pooled, and tolls from existing bridges might be used to pay for new crossings.

    You gave the example of the New Jersey Turnpike. The tolls in your example are charged per mile. It does not matter where you get on or where you get off, all travelers pay
    a toll based on the amount of distance covered, not just because they entered at the state line.

    Next time you want to give examples to prove your point you might think about choosing to avoid ones that disprove it. I do not believe highway weigh stations violate the constitution and I have crossed over the vast majority of the ones we have here in the United States. How does case law on weigh stations compare to putting up a tollbooth? Oh most knowledgeable one please enlighten me. I just can not wait to witness the wisdom you are going to display.

    I may have to wait though. I’m out here actually traveling on some of the tollways we have in our nation (imagine that). I’ve been staying pretty busy for how weak the economy is supposed to be and I can’t get on the internet while I am driving.

  • Tor

    @ HR,

    “Under your reasoning, every toll road in the United States, from the New Jersey Turnpike to the Powhite Parkway in Richmond is unconstitutional. Gee, isn’t anyone paying attention?”

    Every toll road is a pain in the ass. As you said it:

    “Raise the fuel tax a penny and keep the roads open.”

    Tolls decrease down the flow of traffic and increase my dislike for the region I’m being tolled in. I can’t understand how anyone can be against raising the gas tax while supporting a toll road? The two do exactly the same thing: raise revenue by those who use the roads. The difference is one is a pain in the ass and pain in my wallet, the other is just a pain in my wallet.

    @ Wally,

    “Webster defines toll; a tax or fee paid for some liberty or privilege (as of passing over a highway or bridge).

    I’m assuming you hike through the woods to get to work? Or do you drive on a private road that you or the business you work for has constructed so you can get to work. How do you think roads are built and maintained?

  • HisRoc

    Little David,

    Okay, then explain the toll plaza on I-95 above the Susquehanna River in Maryland that is northbound only. Or the Delaware Turnpike where both north and southbound tolls at collected at the Maryland border, allowing southbound traffic not entering Maryland to pay no toll.

    As for the correlation between weigh stations and toll plazas, if you can’t understand the Interstate Commerce implications of both then I can’t help you. My powers can only be used for good and never for evil.

  • Mike Barrett

    Regretfully HisRoc, the powers of the republican majority in the House of Delegates appear to be used only for evil. Despite evidence surrounding us all over the state, the pleadings of the Governor, the actual documented condition of our transportation infrastructure, these bozos value their continued increases in retirement benefits over doing what is right for Virginia. The hidden decrepitude of our roads, bridges, and tunnels because of the failure to fund required maintenance and repair, and the failure to provide a reliable source of funding for sustaining and expanding our system, is not a cost avoided, it is simply a cost postponed. If these guys had any integrity, they would resign en masse and admit their failure to legislate that will cost their children billions of dollars to correct.

  • bandeja paisa

    subordination issue with Solyndra chapter 11.

    if the US Government’s $528mm IOU from Solyndra is put at the top of the list then perhaps that money could be used on Virginia transportation needs.

    Why should Virginia taxpayers have to pay for billionaire Kaiser’s bad investment?

  • Temporary

    Leahy wrote, “A greater concern, though, is perception. Applying a toll to a road drivers already perceive as paid for — through gas taxes — makes the tolling authority seem rather grasping, if not downright greedy (Delaware, I’m looking at you).”

    That’s funny because as I started to read this article my first thought was, didn’t we already pay for that road ? So, yeah, at least one driver perceives this as adding a toll to a road that’s already paid for. Maybe Virginia could pass a tax to get Virginians to pay to build a state capital building, umm, again. Or maybe just a tax because we need some more money tax, we could be the first state to tax the taxes that people pay on their taxes.

  • Tim J

    A VAT tax on taxes, or a VAT could even be added to “fees” to get around the perception of a tax on taxes. If our righteous politicians could make this happen, then Virginia could become the world center of the tax porn industry.

  • HisRoc


    You must not own a house or a car. Once you buy a house, the mortgage does not cover the total cost of ownership. You must pay for maintenance, remodeling, and system replacements such as HVAC. Same thing with a car. There is routine maintenance, unscheduled maintenance, and eventually replacement. Roads are just like that. The toll that Governor Bob wants on I-95 is not to pay for a highway that has already been paid for. It is to widen, improve, and otherwise upgrade I-95. As for the fuel tax paying for these improvements, the last time the tax rate in Virginia was raised was when Ronald Reagan was President and regular unleaded was about $1 per gallon. Accordingly, I would much rather see a modest increase in the gas tax (like double it!) than see 5-10 mile backups on northbound I-95 at the VA-NC border. And if you think that is an exaggeration, then drive up thru Maryland and Delaware next Friday evening to the Delaware Bridge.

  • LittleDavid


    The specific toll you speak of in Maryland is a toll for the bridge on I-95 over the Susquehanna River. If you don’t cross the bridge, you don’t pay the toll. What did you think the toll was for?

    The Delaware Turnpike is only 11 miles in length. I believe when it was originally constructed it only had three exits and these exits included tollbooths. The tollbooths at the exits were removed in the early 80s. Personally I think they snuck one over on us by first doing it one way and then later changing it.

    As for the weigh stations I guess you are right. I only make my living trucking and can not understand the beginnings of a correlation so I guess you can’t help me. Perhaps I can understand why some truckers might have unreasonably challenged the constitutionality of using weigh stations as ports of entry to ensure fuel taxes were paid back before the IFTA (International Fuel Tax Agreement)was passed, but that is a weak relationship.

  • John Jackson

    Are you sure the tolls are going to road mx? Some states leased their roads (i.e. Indiana, Trans-Texas Corridor) to foreign companies for loans. Luckily the Texans stood up against Perry selling Texas property to a Spanish company…not so lucky for Indiana.

    What if they incorporated toll roads to pay for trains and public transportation?

  • HisRoc

    Little David,

    “The Delaware Turnpike is only 11 miles in length.” In Constitutional law terms that is like saying that we are only going to execute 11 people without due process and equal protection under the law.

    Please try to find the Cliff Notes or comic book version of the SCOTUS case law on weigh stations. Your trucking associations tried repeatedly to argue that state-operated weigh stations that enforced maximum axle weights were an unconstitutional restraint of Interstate Commerce. Guess who won?


    It doesn’t matter if tolls are going to road maintenance, highway improvements, or to unrelated public works. That is why I oppose them, among other reasons. If you want to increase funding for transportation infrastructure then use the existing tax mechanism. I am just trying to point out that people who oppose highway tolls on Constitutional grounds or on tax policy grounds are pissing into the wind. Their arguments will never prevail. And we will be stuck with traffic bottleneck choke points that allow the Republicans to proclaim that they didn’t raise taxes. Is this really that hard to understand? Hello, is this mike working?

  • Temporary

    HisRoc wrote, “You must not own a house or a car. Once you buy a house, the mortgage does not cover the total cost of ownership. You must pay for maintenance, remodeling, and system replacements such as HVAC. Same thing with a car. There is routine maintenance, unscheduled maintenance, and eventually replacement. Roads are just like that. The toll that Governor Bob wants on I-95 is not to pay for a highway that has already been paid for. It is to widen, improve, and otherwise upgrade I-95. As for the fuel tax paying for these improvements, the last time the tax rate in Virginia was raised was when Ronald Reagan was President and regular unleaded was about $1 per gallon. Accordingly, I would much rather see a modest increase in the gas tax (like double it!) than see 5-10 mile backups on northbound I-95 at the VA-NC border. And if you think that is an exaggeration, then drive up thru Maryland and Delaware next Friday evening to the Delaware Bridge.”

    I understand what you are saying HisRoc, but all I heard in my head when I read this was “Raise taxes”. If it’s all just money can’t we get the money by cutting more spending in Virginia, or selling stuff that shouldn’t have been purchased in the first place ? Many people in Virginia feel that they are taxed enough already (I’m sure I’ve heard that phrase somewhere) and the thought of a Republican governor who was elected in 2010 raising taxes to protect spending is, what’s the word I’m looking for ? Disquieting. Or maybe it is the governor’s assertion that tolls aren’t taxes ? They sure seem like taxes when you open your wallet and hand money to someone and don’t get a slurpee in return. Maybe instead of trying to find ways to claim that they didn’t raise taxes the Republican party elected officials could simply not raise taxes, like, in reality, actually not raise them, sort of like what Bob McDonald said when he was running for office and refused to sign a pledge not to raise taxes. “We have a spending problem more than we have a taxation problem”, he said.

    Walk the walk.

  • Temporary

    Apologies for the typo, I spelled McDonnell’s name wrong, I haven’t had breakfast yet //grin//.

  • Wally Erb

    “When will they every learn?”Kingston Trio
    Borrowing can be equated to raising taxes (including tolls). Moreover, analogies comparing households
    (mortgages) to government (bonds) is a misconstrual. Every instance of governmental borrowing relies on the sources of “new” revenue to service the acquired debt. Obstinately, households (generally) leverage themselves within reach of their current income levels.
    Hence, the absurd covenants of “holding the line on taxes” and “no tax pledges” are shattered, whether the tax increase is immediate or in the future. The biggest travesty and disappointment to Gov McDonnell’s administration is placing millstones around the necks of the Commonwealth’s future.

  • John Jackson

    Hell, we haven’t done anything according to the Constitution for decades, why would anyone use that as an argument? I’m just saying that everyone thinks these tolls are going to pay for roads.

    It’s going to pay for public transportation (i.e. trains, planes, bus, bike paths, etc.). Something has to subsidize those items. Here soon we’re going to start the light-rail and high speed train discussion…so let’s talk about where the revenue from these tolls are truly going.

    If you see where the revenue is projected to go, you’d realize that tolls aren’t even needed.

  • Mike Barrett

    So John, you are denying that roads are a subsidized form of transportation? Are you denying the need for a reliable funding stream for transportation infrastructure in the Commonwealth? Do you realize the Governor just borrowed $4B dollars to build more infrastructure when we already spend $500M each year from the construction fund on maintenance so we don’t lose our federal match? Do you deny that Hampton Roads, Richmond, and NoVa would benefit from high speed rail to connect us to nation wide rail service? If you continue in the state of denial, you will be part of the cause of the decline of this Commonwealth as a good place to live, work, and play. Of course, you will have to get in line behind the republicans in the House of Delegates who have made an art of the state of denial.

  • John Jackson

    When a gasoline tax goes to pay for the roads, that sounds like a legitimate tax to pay for real infrastructure (roads and bridges). But when highway tolls and gasoline taxes are used to pay for light-rail, Amtrak and bike paths that needs subsidize, that’s a whole different discussion.

    And if your referring to the Hampton Roads Region competing for global jobs, that’s a joke. It’s a bunch of liberals using everyone else’s money thinking they’re doing something as they squander our money. Meanwhile, unemployment is going through the roof and our population is declining as they practice social engineering.

    To beat all, they are competing to be second rate citizens. Guess your associated with that group?

  • Mike Barrett

    I see the fuels tax as a legitimate way to pay for transportation infrastructure, no matter what form it takes. And yes, we do compete blobally for new companies. We have had six announcements of new firms locating here since January, and over the last six years, for every $1.00 spent on economic development, we have earned $11 in benefit. That is a great ROI.

  • LittleDavid


    Some of the Associations might have done this but it is a split decision within the industry as to whether the efforts to further increase truck weight limits is a good idea or not.

    I think you are referring to pre STAA (Surface Transportation Assistance Act) problems within the national highway network. Some states in the middle of the nation had extremely restrictive trailer, overall length and weight limits. These few states essentially were dictating what the limits would be because you could not go through them to transport freight between the majority of the states that had agreed to the dimensions we currently operate under. This is no longer a problem.

    However even this did not amount to anything illegal under the constitution. All the weigh stations/ports of entry were doing was ensuring that the out of state trucks complied with the same restrictions placed upon in state trucks.

    The decision reached in the courts have no bearing on placing a tariff (toll) at the border of the state that only interstate traffic will pay but the intrastate traffic will not. If you can not understand the difference then (as you put it) I can’t help you.

  • John Jackson

    When I gas up my car and drive over roads that haven’t been fixed in nearly a decade. Or I’m sitting in traffic for hours because crony capitalist want a train utopia..Yeah, I find that severely dishonest to make the impression that this money is going to fix roads.

    Last year, $5.6 billion went to road repair while $2.1B went to public transportation. So, you’re solution is to install tolls on roads that’s already paid for. If you want a train…pay for it yourself. Otherwise, get off the transportation dole by clouding the discussion as “Infrastructure.”

    As for your 11 to 1 ROI, it will dry up when the Federal government gets off their $4 trillion spending spree. Once that’s done, we’ll be holding the bag for the strings attached to that crony $11 you made.

    Announcements are one thing but doing cronyism with Michigan and bring jobs from your buddies does not help the people here. The social engineering has got to stop. We cannot afford your utopia.

  • John Jackson

    Are you saying that the Federal government did not regulate interstate truck standards? As I would assume that this would be one statute that truly did classify as true interstate commerce.

  • LittleDavid

    John Jackson,

    Federal regulation of interstate truck standards has evolved over time. Here is a link if you want to read up on this evolution in detail.

    Here is executive summary:

    The STAA of 1982 substantially expanded Federal regulation and authority over both vehicle size and weight, overriding the more restrictive barrier States and establishing minimum, and maximum standards for weight, width, and minimum standards for length on the Interstate.