Senate OKs Raising Fuel Tax in Western Virginia to Improve I-81

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By DeForrest Ballou

Capital News Service

RICHMOND – An additional fuel tax of 2.1 percent would be levied in western Virginia under a Senate bill approved Tuesday creating a regional transportation fund to help pay for improvements on busy Interstate 81.

The legislation sponsored by Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta, passed the Senate 24-16. It would create the Western Virginia Transportation Fund to improve conditions on the state’s longest interstate, stretching from Bristol to Winchester – mostly two lanes in each direction.

The road is packed with long-haul truckers, many more than the capacity for which the highway was designed.

The Senate also passed a bill proposed by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, directing the Commonwealth Transportation Board to develop a plan for improving I-81 corridor improvements, possibly using tolls.

Obenshain joined 15 other Republicans in voting against Hanger’s SB 583, which would impose the extra tax in 32 counties and 13 cities.

“While Sen. Hanger and I agree that we need to do something to improve Interstate 81 and to make it safer, we disagree about how to do it. I do not agree that we should impose a higher gas tax on residents along the 81 corridor to pay for it,” Obenshain said earlier this session.

“I have been working on a bipartisan plan with the administration to develop a plan that would focus on tolling long distance interstate traffic, including heavy trucks without burdening those who depend on the Interstate for travel to and from work,” Obenshain said.

Obenshain’s bill, SB 971, passed unanimously. Both bills now move to the House of Delegates.

Under Hanger’s bill, the staff of the Blacksburg-Christianburg-Montgomery Area and Roanoke Valley planning organizations, along with Virginia Department of Transportation, would organize the Western Virginia Transportation Commission.

The additional fuel tax would affect:

·       The counties of Alleghany, Augusta, Bath, Bland, Botetourt, Buchanan, Carroll, Clarke, Craig, Dickenson, Floyd, Franklin, Frederick, Giles, Grayson, Highland, Lee, Montgomery, Page, Pulaski, Roanoke, Rockbridge, Rockingham, Russell, Scott, Shenandoah, Smyth, Tazewell, Warren, Washington, Wise and Wythe.

·       The cities of Bristol, Buena Vista, Covington, Galax, Harrisonburg, Lexington, Norton, Radford, Roanoke, Salem, Staunton, Waynesboro and Winchester.

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