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People who would pay tolls on I-95 are state residents or those traveling here to work or conduct business.
IAGREE WITH three-fourths of Cord Sterling's recent op-ed in The Free Lance-Star on Sept. 12 ["Toll booth on I-95: No panacea, but a start"] in which he clearly outlines Virginia's growing transportation crisis. For Virginia to maintain its reputation as one of the best states to do business, it must make funding improvements to its transportation infrastructure a top priority. Sterling willingly outlines the problem. However, he offers only tolls on Interstate 95 as a "start," and fails to provide ideas for a comprehensive solution to fix the problem.
The trucking industry does not object to the use of tolls to finance construction of new highways. However, it is strongly opposed
Asserting that tolling I-95 is a good idea because the tolls will be paid mostly by vehicles travelling through Virginia is not supported by fact. According to VDOT, 70 percent to 80 percent of the vehicles that will be subject to the toll are out-of-state travelers. But VDOT also notes that only 5 percent to 7 percent of the vehicles that will be subject to the toll travel the entire length of I-95 through Virginia.
The vast majority of people who will have to pay the toll are either Virginia residents or people from out of state travelling to a Virginia destination to work, to go to school, to visit tourist attractions, to shop, or to conduct some other business--economic activities that benefit the whole state.
Tolls on I-95 may help to generate money from this small percentage of through traffic, but tolls will also discourage residents of other states from visiting Virginia and spending money during their stay. Imposing a border tax on I-95 will put Virginia's business-friendly reputation at risk and be a red flag for any company looking to expand or relocate here. It will also make it more difficult for Virginia businesses to compete with businesses in other states that won't have to pay a toll tax on their shipments. I don't think Virginia can afford to discourage consumer spending and business expansion.
OPPOSING THE GOVERNOR
The trucking industry was one of the first groups to express opposition to the governor's proposal. It has been joined by thousands of Southside Virginians, 20 local governments, five economic and transportation planning organizations, business associations, individual businesses, and current and former elected leaders who have also taken a position against tolls on I-95. They are concerned about the negative economic impact on their local residents and businesses. Imposing an $8 tax on the residents of economically depressed Southside Virginia, who rely on I-95 to go to work, school, shopping or for medical care is fundamentally unfair.
The people of Southside Virginia are also concerned about the consequences of traffic being diverted onto local roads in their communities. VDOT's own analysis states that 35 percent to 40 percent of I-95 drivers will divert themselves around the toll and onto secondary roads that are ill-equipped to handle the increased traffic. This will cause maintenance issues and public-safety hazards for the people of Southside Virginia.
It is no wonder that the people of Southside Virginia feel that they are being unfairly targeted by VDOT's "reverse Robin Hood" scheme of imposing tolls in one of the most economically distressed areas of the commonwealth to fund highway projects in one of the state's most affluent areas.
For Sterling to claim that "charging a toll at a point 120 miles away sounds like a good and fair deal for all involved" is a slap in the face for residents of Southside who could pay more than $2,000 a year to commute to work. He seems all too willing to pass the burden on to someone else and reap the benefits of others' economic pain. I wonder if Sterling would be such a willing champion of tolls on I-95 if the facility were to be placed in Stafford County.
WASTING TAXPAYER MONEY
Supporters of VDOT's toll plan don't talk about how the plan wastes taxpayer money. During the first six years of the plan, 38 cents of every dollar paid in tolls will be kept by VDOT to build, operate, and maintain the toll collection system--leaving only 62 cents to spend on improvements. That is an incredible waste of taxpayer dollars that could be better spent on fixing our transportation problems rather than creating more government bureaucracy.
I and many others who operate truck businesses agree with the editorial positions of the Richmond Times-Dispatch and The Free Lance-Star: An increase in the fuel tax is the most efficient and fairest method currently available to generate new revenue for highway improvements. When a driver pays a dollar in Virginia fuel tax, government keeps less than 1 cent to pay for collection and enforcement--the remaining 99 cents is used to build and maintain roads. Increasing the fuel tax is a vastly more efficient use of taxpayer dollars than the I-95 toll plan.
Tolls are taxes, plain and simple. But, unlike the fuel tax, tolls waste too much of the taxpayer's dollar on unneeded government bureaucracy and expenses. VDOT says its plan is a first step and that it intends to collect tolls on I-95 in perpetuity. I believe they intend to expand tolling all along I-95 and Virginia's other interstate highways.
I also believe that transforming Virginia from "Old Dominion" to "Tolled Dominion" is bad public policy that will be bad for business and bad for the residents of the commonwealth.
Charles G. McDaniel is chairman