By Ahniaelyah Spraggs
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Two state senators are calling for a study on the feasibility of imposing tolls on large trucks using Interstate 81.
The potential toll revenue would fund safety improvements on the highway, according to Republican Sens. Mark Obenshain of Rockingham and Bill Carrico of Grayson, who filed a bill Friday to launch such a study.
“We need to focus our efforts and money on improving I-81. It has been overlooked for too long, and Virginians in Southwest Virginia and the Valley deserve better,” said Carrico, who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee. “This bill is an innovative approach, and I look forward to seeing the results of this study.”
Kansas and Rhode Island have similar truck-tolling programs. In 2017, revenue from commercial vehicle tolls in Kansas totaled $48 million. In Rhode Island, such tolls may generate $60 million in annual revenue for transportation needs, according to an economic impact study.
I-81 runs 855 miles from Tennessee to the Canadian border. The Virginia segment is 325 miles long, from Bristol to Winchester.
Obenshain said that I-81 carries nearly half of statewide truck traffic and that about a fifth of the traffic collisions on the interstate involve a heavy truck.
“With over 2,000 crashes per year, and 30 crashes a year with a clearance time greater than six hours, we must be willing to look at creative methods to find substantive solutions to this problem,” Obenshain said.
The bill would set several stipulations for the proposed tolling program. Under the stipulations, the Commonwealth Transportation Board would:
• Identify how to improve specific parts of I-81.
• Develop a tolling policy that minimizes effects on local traffic and the diversion of truck traffic from I-81.
• Use all funds generated by the tolls for the benefit of I-81.
No matter what the study might find, tolls on I-81 may be a long way off. Any tolling program on the highway would require approval from the General Assembly, Obenshain noted.
“I believe that a willingness to explore innovative and unconventional funding sources can be a part of a bipartisan solution to the problems faced by those who travel Interstate 81 every day,” he said.
Obenshain has filed another bill aimed at truck safety on I-81. SB 561 calls for the Virginia Department of Transportation to conduct a pilot program requiring tractor trucks to travel in the right lane only.