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In the parking lot of the Virginia Department of Transportation's Stafford office on Deacon Road, there was a tractor-trailer with "No 95 Tolls" plastered on it. Nearby was a hearse next to a coffin with an anti-toll sign on it and a faux skeleton in it. It was a clear message from those who showed up for Monday's public hearing on VDOT's proposal to toll Interstate 95.
About 47 people attended the hearing, most of whom were from Sussex County, where the proposed toll would be built.
"I've not met one person that supports this," said Rex Davis, a Sussex resident whose family's business is in the planned toll area. "This thing is just a stop sign" to tourism and commerce, Davis said before the meeting.
Residents asked why an I-95 toll was needed at all, and why in Sussex. They also doubted there would be financial benefits from the toll, as VDOT has said.
The plan is part of a federal pilot project that includes Virginia and two other states. The Federal Highway Administration has to approve the plan. If tolls are approved, they could be up and running by 2015, according to VDOT.
VDOT has said that the toll plan is only one option the state is looking at to help fill a $10.1 billion funding gap needed to fix and upgrade the aging and crumbling interstate infrastructure.
VDOT's Mike Estes told the crowd that the state's current 17.5-cent gas tax, which hasn't been raised since the 1980s, is worth about 8 cents in today's dollars.
"Traffic is going up and revenue is going down," he said.
Several people asked if more tolls along the interstate are being planned.
VDOT'S Mike Estes said eventually there could be more than one toll added to I-95.
Chester Carter, who owns an RV and truck repair facility near where the toll would go, said he gets most of his business from interstate traffic. A toll, he said, would "put me out of business."
Estes said VDOT is still looking at the potential impact on the Sussex community and ways to give rebates to area residents as well as travelers who pull off I-95 in the tolled area to spend money.
Also at the meeting was Fredericksburg resident Rupert Farley who said the toll should be in Northern Virginia.
Estes said the Sussex spot was chosen because the area has one of the lowest traffic counts on the interstate and would impact the least amount of drivers.
He also said data showed that traffic along that stretch is mainly comprised of drivers from out-of-state who are taking long road trips.
For more information, go to virginiadot.org.
Scott Shenk: 540/374-5436