Some of the questions raised by the approval to toll I-95.

I’m wondering what to do with the news that the Federal Highway Administration has provided preliminary approval for Virginia to toll I-95. There’s so much that I don’t know about transportation funding. Here’s some of what I’d like to know:

  • The funding from this can only go to 95, right?
  • How much of the cost of construction and maintenance of 95 is current borne by Virginia, and how much is federally funded?
  • Will the income from this toll be offset by a reduction in federal funding?
  • Since Virginia traded the right to toll 81 (granted in 2003) for the right to toll 95, what’s the plan for 81?

To take a shot at answering one of those questions, I see that the DOT page about this program says that “[i]nterstate maintenance funds may not be used on a facility for which tolls are being collected under this program.” Are the interstate maintenance funds that are allocated to Virginia based on the number of miles of interstate that we have and, if so, does that mean that tolling 95 will result in a reduction in funding accordingly? Tolling 95 will bring in a surprisingly small amount of money: $50M annually. (VDOT’s budget for 2011 is $3,320M.) If we are going to lose some funding for our interstates, then what’s the net increase in funding?

I didn’t see any way that we were going to get approval for this, but it hadn’t occurred to me that the governor might sacrifice I-81 for I-95. Whether that’s a wise move, I have no idea, but I look forward to seeing the numbers.

Oh, and if you’re curious, there are a handful of places where 95 is tolled already, though none south of Maryland.

Published by Waldo Jaquith

Waldo Jaquith (JAKE-with) is an open government technologist who lives near Char­lottes­­ville, VA, USA. more »

29 replies on “Some of the questions raised by the approval to toll I-95.”

  1. I was just remembering the other day that there used to be tolls on 95 through Richmond when I was a kid, I think where 95 and 64 are together. Would hate to have that come back.

  2. in terms of funding – the Federal Gas Tax trust fund is being subsidized an additional 30 billion a year form the general fund and there is sentiment that cut it back to just what the gas taxes actually generate.

    that would reduce funding even more because the gas tax has not kept up with inflation and at the same time more efficient cars use less fuel…i.e. generate less gas tax.

    the state gas tax only generates enough money for maintenance and operations – and the new projects that will come from the bonds just floated.

    FHWA, to this point, has been resistant to tolls on existing interstates because they were paid for with gas taxes and there has always been a perception that once a road is built that there are no downstream costs much less an appreciation that if there are actually downstream costs – where the money would come from.

    the approval to toll is essentially a tacit admission that maintenance and improvement of I-95 has no funding source unless tolls are implemented.

    this is not unusual for Va. The original I-95 through Richmond was funded from tolls and Richmond still has a tolled Powhite Parkway. Va has the tolled Chesapeake Bay Bridge tunnel and the Dulles toll road.

    tolling I-95 ought to free up scarce funds for other roads and at the same time secure dedicated funding to maintain, improve and expand I-95 but be advised that 200 million a year is not exactly a bonanza … it’s takes about 20 million to pave one mile of new interstate in a rural area now days. Urban interstates can cost 100 million a mile and up.

    I’m not sure why they had to trade I-81 but suspect that the interstate tolling is a pilot program that at this point gives Va only one bite at that apple.

    Personally I favor tolls because it usually requires an accountable funding account like we see on the CBBT and Powhite Parkway so there is a better chance that the tolls will only be spent on the road that is tolled.

    but I do agree – that all the questions need to be answered.

  3. The big problem with tolling is, of course, the traffic it causes. I remember the backups at the old tollboth on 264 to Virginia Beach… An EZPass system helps, but also siphons off some of the proceeds to the vendor. I don’t know how to implement a toll that doesn’t bollock up traffic.

    Therefore, we need a revenue mechanism that doesn’t affect traffic and proportionately impacts road users. The obvious answer is… a gas tax. We already have a mechanism for it, it requires no new infrastructure, doesn’t unduly impact non-users of the resource.

    Waldo’s point about losing maintenance funds has got to be run to ground, and LarryG points out that the gas tax hasn’t kept up with costs.

    Are we so adverse to the word “tax” that we think the word “toll” is somehow better? Even if it means additional cost and inconvenience?


  4. it’s called open-road tolling and it’s a reality:

    re: the gas tax

    been there – done that – 80% are opposed.. the only people to suggest it have been the Dems and they get whacked by the Republicans every time who say that we have a spending problem not a tax problem.

    tolls are what happen when you play that anti-tax game.

  5. Aren’t tolls simply a user fee? At least the people using the road are actually paying for it more directly that a gas tax.

  6. I agree.. they are a user fee but unlike a tax that everyone must pay and no assurance that you’ll get back anything for what you pay… the toll has a tighter “nexus” (in theory).

    people can and do oppose taxes for fuel but opposing tolls is less effective and so VDOT like most DOTs across the country are taking the path of less resistance.

    People in much of rural Va don’t care if you toll I-95 but if you want to raise their gas tax – they’re not going to agree.

  7. I’ll tell you why they traded I-81 tolling for I-95 – The shortest distance between New York City and Miami (the north/south eastern seaboard interstate) is now I-81/I-77/I-26/I-95; and if the Guv wants to hang his “Virginia Transportation Funding Plan” on a dusty Byrd-era toll road ideology, fine, America will drive down I-81 and let the Luddites play with their antique toll road dream in Byrdland.

    You are right, this is republican math at work here. $50M/yr will not pay for one interchange rebuild on I-95. It takes real money, and lots of it to build and maintain a high-speed heavy highway. You can’t do it on pie-in-the-sky tolling fantasies. All of Virginia benefits by a modern, efficient transportation system, so everyone pays, even the people who live up my hollow, no car, but expect their packages to be delivered, and their kids to have a job one day here in Virginia.

    Whether you sit in line at the toll booth, or place a government-monitored “smart” tag on your vehicle you are about to find out AGAIN why toll roads didn’t work for Virginia’s future in Harry Byrd’s era, or today.

    Consider the Chesapeake Expressway, that boondoggle freeway around the Chesapeake, Virginia. What started out as a $2 toll has now gone to $6 and the stupid thing 1)can’t pay for itself, and 2)has incentivized drivers to do the 3 mile crawl through Chesapeake to avoid the toll! Unelected Wall Street lenders who paid for the CE want a RoI, and they will now be deciding Virginia’s transportation future. It is an abdication of responsibility on the part of our elected leaders. It is pandering to the notion that we can have something for nothing, or that “someone else” will pay our share.

  8. well the CBBT and the Powhite Parkway seem to be okay and the Dulles Toll Road is such a cash cow that they think they can fund METRO with it.

    if you tolled the major tunnels in Tidewater, you’d take in substantial money and toll-evading routes would be almost non-existent.

    The question I have in a place like Tidewater is – who should they expect to pay for their infrastructure needs?

    and the answer to that question is the reason why I support tolls.

    The folks in Tidewater think other Va taxpayers should pay for their needs but then again so do the folks in NoVa … and Lynchburg, Charlottesville, etc… and all that approach has done is bankrupt our transportation funding because of the mentality that the “state” is responsible for transportation but no one wants to pay the state increased gas taxes to actually fund it.

    With that kind of mentality – tolls are inevitable and to be honest – asking Tidewater HOW they want to pay for their needs is a lot better question than asking them WHO should pay for it.

  9. The only people who think that the Dulles Toll Road is a “cash cow” able to fund Dulles rail are the people who run the Airport Authority. The people who know transportation say they don’t know what they are talking about.

    We won’t get anywhere with transportation planning until the voters understand that tolling will not come close to paying for our transportation aspirations. And that maybe we are not having a Full and Honest discussion about how to deal with that REALITY.

    In the meantime, I’m all about directing scarce transportation funds to where they make the best difference for Virginia’s economy – our world-class port and NoVA. Let the “no taxes” people eat wish-sandwiches!

  10. well.. it appears to me that the Republicans prefer tolls and taxes on insurance policies to gas taxes while the Democrats like gas taxes.

    We took a vote.

    The Dems lost….


    we tried to give the urban areas a way to set up supplemental regional taxes – the Va Supreme court did not like it and the GA did not see fit to re-craft it.

    I’d just point out that any locality is free to hold transportation referenda to pay for more/better/bigger/nicer roads…. and actually about 1/2 dozen have done just that.

    VDOT – to their credit has started to take Access Management for roads of statewide significance – seriously.

    and both Warner and Kaine tried to raise the gasoline tax and the Republicans smacked them down…

    so.. what other realistic options are there?

    would the Republicans ever come out and say we need to increase the gas tax?

  11. John M — governor’s only talking about putting a toll at the North Carolina border (he must have been scared by a big glass of “sweet taiii” as a child or something). If you think about it, putting the toll on the I-95/I-64 interchange, where it used to be, makes more sense, since you get traffic on both interstates. If the guv really wants to make some money on an I-95 toll, slap that bad boy on where it enters the District or Maryland..that’s where your traffic is at.

  12. “slap that bad boy on where it enters the District or Maryland”

    boy you can sure tell who’s NOT from NOVA!

    tolls on 495 and NoVa portion of I-95 is a done deal.

    it should also come as no surprise that FHWA was/is a supporter of tolls in NoVa … loaned VA money to get them done… and is becoming a supporter of tolls in general.

    Has anyone heard if the Charlottesville Bypass will be tolled?

  13. Bubby Hussein,

    You make some really good points but I think that literally half of the people who would have agreed with you stopped listening at the words, ‘Republican math.’ Leave the partisan stuff out and you’ll win a lot more hearts and minds.

  14. Road building is expensive statewide but building roads in the Tidewater area is more expensive because of the water-bridges and tunnels really add up.

    Gas tax is the way to go-system to collect is already in place. No increase in traffic. When I drive from Va to a neighboring state, like NC, the gas is ususaly the same price or maybe a penny more or even less. So someone continues to get richer off gas sold in Va.
    Maybe that is Bob’s and the GOP’s plan.

  15. Va voters are 80% opposed to gas tax increases. Every time an elected official supports gas tax increases – the political opposition kills them… makes it an election issue.

    Elected Conservatives in VA have made a conscious choice of tolls over taxes.

    Most every major transportation infrastructure in Tidewater is being studied for tolls …

    if the folks in Tidewater want taxes instead of tolls – perhaps a referenda should be given to see if Tidewater folks want to have gas tax increases in their region verses tolls but the idea that ROVA and NOVA are going to pay increased gas taxes for Tidewater infrastructure is ….well… it’s not dealing with realities…

    we are moving away from a paradigm where taxes are collected statewide and then focused on particular regions.

  16. Maybe if the voters heard the truth about “fees & tolls” vs a gas tax they wouldn’t be 80% opposed. I know NO ONE in the Va GOP would ever have the guts to tell this truth so as long as the GOP controls Richmond, we will drive on crummy roads.

    Also, so is it now North and South Virginia? I think the Tidewater area chipped in plenty when NOVA was building like crazy. How about the SW Va-they have helped out NOVA too.

    The port in Norfolk brings in money to all of Va-do you want to strangle the golden goose?

    Your “paradigm” is just more of the “I’ve got mine, to heck with the rest of you” attitude.

    Aren’t we all Virginians?

  17. well … Virginians voted and they choose the govt that will not increase gas taxes and they vote out those that say we should.

    Ya’ll have your share of elected conservatives who have that view down your way and ya’ll vote for them – right?

    re: “golden goose” – yeah yeah.. NoVa makes the same argument…..

    it’s not the “ports” that mess up you roads and tunnels.. it’s your solo drivers… just like NoVa…

    re: “I’ve got mine”

    ha ha

    The folks who run for office advocating increases for gas taxes get routinely beat in Va by the “I’ve got mine” crowd..

    just recognize that Dems generally support gas tax increases and Republicans kill them at election time – and I’ve yet to hear elected folks down your way advocate for gas tax increases.. but perhaps they have.. have they?

    do ya’ll vote into office people who advocate for gas tax increases?

  18. If anyone throughout Virginia, not just in my area, would advocate for a gas tax, I would support them-with whatever $$’s I could scrape together, phone calls, etc. There are very few Dems elected from Tidewater in the General Assemby-none from Va Beach.

    No metro in Tidewater and the new rail system in Norfolk is very locals only.

    However, the “crazy” seems strong in Virginia right now-prime example is Cucinelli.

    The fact that anyone thinks it is ok to mine uranium that could poison a major metropolitan water source is proof that so many are losing any long-term perspective.

    Pretty sad….

  19. the problem with the gas tax is people in ROVA fear that the metro areas will take it and they’ll end up with crappier roads and high fuel costs and little else.

    We need to have an more transparent and equitable process to convince people that if they pay higher taxes – they’ll see improvements on the roads they travel.

    That’s why I favor regional and local supplemental gas taxes approved by referenda or tolls – put both on the ballot and see if one or both pass or not.

    all of us need to cast off the mind-set that someone else in another part of the state is going to fund our local/regional needs.

    I’m in favor of VDOT designating roads of statewide significance and getting a dedicated slice from all of us for those roads.

    but our biggest problem right now is that too many think that someone else should pay for their roads.

  20. Disagree-we need to work together as the Commonwealth of Va. not ROVA and NOVA. I am a bit sick of the attitude that the wealthier areas only count. The roads in NOVA and ROVA are much better than Tidewater but I know I paid the Rt 44/264 toll for years past the time that road was paid for… once tolls are in place it takes forever for them to be removed.

    Again, on the gas tax-I can’t believe the gas price for distributors is so much higher in Va vs NC so someone is pocketing the difference-is it you LG?

  21. re gas tax – 17.5 in Va and 25 in NC.

    there is no accountability in Va for the gas tax.

    because of that – each locality – each region thinks it is getting screwed and each locality/region thinks they deserve to be subsidized by other localities and regions.

    re: roads that are “paid” for.

    is a canard – roads are no more “paid for” than your house once the mortgage is paid.

    you have ongoing maintenance and operations.. and it costs big bucks… where does it come from?

    In Va – the average driver who drives 15K a year and gets maybe 20mpg – pays in gas tax – about 132 bucks a year in gas tax or about a penny a mile…

    ya’ll have what – about 2 million people?

    so you going to generate probably 150-200 million a year in gas taxes.

    a county with 50,000 people would generate about 7 million dollars… and you want Tidewater to get that?

    people don’t know the numbers.. once you see the numbers you realize how silly it is to think there is a bunch of transpo money available from other localities….

    it’s not there… raising the gas tax in Va by one penny will generate about 50 million dollars – statewide.

    even if you raised the tax a penny – and gave it all to Tidewater – you’d get 50 million – about enough money to build 3 miles of 4-lane or one interchange.

  22. Deep breath LarryG: Everyone who buys gasoline pays the gas tax – that includes the tourists, and the people from out of the region. $0.05/gal additional Virginia gas tax would make this problem go away.

  23. I have my doubts that .05 will do the trick – at $250 million a year but let’s assume it will… who would vote for it?

    Not McDonnell and not the GA… right?

    in fact any Democrat who dares to support it gets called a tax&spender by his next Republican opponent.

    It appears to me that Republicans have come down on the side of tolls.

    elections have consequences but all in all, it appears that Virginia prefers Republicans …and by 80% don’t want gas taxes.

    I support referenda. In fact, I support citizen-initiated referenda.. something that no Republican that I know of will even consider.

    I’m opposed to the way we tax gasoline and decide how it is spent.

    It’s a closed door process that’s more effected by politics than objective needs.

    giving them more gas tax money to continue that system would be a mistake in my humble opinion.

    they just guaranteed Charlottesville about 200 million which is over and above their normal allocations.

    where do we think that money came from? Tidewater?

  24. The gas tax in North Carolina is $ 0.325, it is $ 0.175 in Virginia, which is 15 cents less. Imagine what that could do for roads in Virginia. Lower gas tax isn’t bringing us lower prices-so collect the difference.

    Check link about rate of $0.325 for NC-seems some people think their money does provide for better roads. I know their roads are better than Va.

    Next week I will start a newsletter on this subject-interested?

  25. yup.. I got an older rate.. sorry about that… and it looks like it’s going up on a schedule:

    but I have to tell you I was in NC two weeks ago and it was 3.71 in Reidsville (near the border) and 3.33 in Lynchburg.

    you might be surprised that many in NC say they have a transportation funding “crisis” and support toll roads.

    NC actually asked FHWA to toll I-95 a few years back but were turned down.

    the gas tax is considered severely compromised by the advent of fuel efficient cars.

    Virginia’s 17.5 has lost half of it’s buying power just due to inflation but even worse is that cars are getting significantly better mileage than they were in 1986.

    the higher the gas tax – the more people shift to more fuel efficient cars…

    It used to be than a penny on the gas tax would bring in 80 million.. Now it’s dropped to 50 million because of fuel efficiency… and raising the tax just accelerates the trend.

    What I favor is the right for people in Tidewater or NoVa or Charlottesville to vote for a locality or regional supplemental fuel tax – a percentage… like 5% that will float with the price.

    Then Tidewater would have it’s own source of funding and they could start prioritizing what they wanted to spend it on… but the gas tax just does not generate enough money anymore…so eventually you’re going to have to think about tolls on the tunnels… I think VDOT is already in the middle of that study.

    even states like NC with it’s much higher tax – are looking at tolling…

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