April 1, 2013 8:00 AM, EDT

Editorial: No Tolls on Va.’s I-95

This Editorial appears in the April 1 print edition of Transport Topics. Click here to subscribe today.

It appears that the opponents of Virginia’s plan to put tolls on Interstate 95 have won the battle, and we’re glad to hear it.

As we’ve said many times before, adding new tolls to existing roads is bad policy. If we have to endure tolls, it must be for new capacity, where the money is at least being used to finance infrastructure improvements and not as a cash cow to bail state governments out because they can’t find money to pay for ongoing operations.

While the Virginia Legislature still has to issue its final approval, Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) signed a transportation funding bill that replaces the state’s existing 17.5-cent-a-gallon diesel and gasoline tax with sales tax increases that will pay for highway and transit projects.

As part of that agreement, McDonnell gave up his plan to impose new tolls on I-95, the main north-south federal highway between New England and Florida.

Virginia was one of three states that received federal permission to apply for a pilot project under the auspices of the Federal Highway Administration to add tolls to existing interstates.

With the end of his drive to toll Virginia’s portion of the road, all three pilot projects are now dead or stalled.

Missouri’s Legislature blocked the state’s plan to add tolls there, while North Carolina’s Legislature has ordered a study on the economic impact of adding tolls to its portion of I-95. And Gov. Pat McCrory of North Carolina has already said that he isn’t a fan of adding these tolls.

This is the second time that Virginia’s Legislature has blocked state plans to toll existing roads. You will remember the drive about five years ago to add truck tolls to Interstate 81 in Virginia, a major north-south truck route, a plan that was eventually killed.

As Dale Bennett, president of the Virginia Trucking Association, an American Trucking Associations affiliate, put it last week, the legislature’s actions to halt both tolling projects “sends a pretty clear message that the legislature’s very wary and has serious concerns about tolling an existing interstate in the Commonwealth.”

Virginia will now levy a tax on wholesale fuel distributors to make up for the old fuel taxes and will raise its state sales tax by 0.3%, with the money designated to fund roads, bridges and public transit projects.

New taxes are never an easy pill for legislators to swallow, but Virginia’s elected representatives have done the right thing by enacting new levies that will spread the burden of funding its transport projects across all users, without adding burdensome tolls to long-ago paid-for highways.