The Virginia Senate unanimously passed a bill Feb. 13 directing the state’s transportation board to develop a plan for improving traffic along Interstate 81, possibly through the use of truck tolls.
The bill, introduced by Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) Jan. 19, ordered the Commonwealth Transportation Board and the Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment to study the feasibility of truck tolls along I-81.
If instituted, the truck tolls would fund infrastructure projects along the route.
“In conducting its study, the Board shall evaluate the feasibility of using toll financing to improve [I-81] throughout the Commonwealth,” the bill, labeled SB 971, states. “Such evaluation shall not consider options that toll all users of [I-81], and shall not consider tolls on commuters using [I-81], but may consider high-occupancy toll lanes and tolls on heavy commercial vehicles.”
I-81 is an important freight route in Virginia. According to VDOT’s technical report on I-81, the portion of the corridor running through Virginia sees about 12,010 heavy vehicles a day.
According to the bill, I-81 carries 42% of all the truck vehicle miles traveled on interstate highways in Virginia and, in 2016, there were more than 2,000 crashes on the route. Some 30 of these crashes took more than six hours to clear, and the bill states that losing one lane of traffic due to a crash reduces highway capacity by 65%.
“[I-81] is a crucial corridor for interstate truck traffic and an efficient artery to promote the flow of goods and continued economic development,” the bill states. “An adequate, efficient and safe [I-81] corridor is important to the economic well-being of the communities located along the corridor.”
Virginia is not the first state to foray into truck-only tolls. Rhode Island DOT is preparing to set up truck-tolling gantries along I-95 in spring 2018. Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo introduced RhodeWorks, legislation that includes a trucks-only tolling system projected to generate $4.7 billion to finance infrastructure projects such as bridge replacements and road improvements.
SB 971 now moves to the state House of Delegates.