Gov. Bob McDonnell’s proposal to collect tolls on Interstate 95 near the North Carolina border has another prominent Republican opponent — former governor and U.S. Senate candidate George Allen.
Allen issued a statement this afternoon announcing his opposition to the tolling proposal, saying it could be an economic drag and hurt commuters already saddled with high fuel prices.
The Virginia Department of Transportation is seeking federal approval to impose tolls at a collection point north of Emporia. Passenger cars would pay $4 and heavy trucks would pay $12. The proceeds would pay for upgrades and expansion projects along the heavily traveled interstate.
U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Chesapeake, already has stated his opposition to the plan and has urged McDonnell to reconsider it. At least 17 local governments, as well as state and national truckers associations, have declared their opposition.
“I commend Governor McDonnell for putting together a comprehensive transportation plan that invests in our infrastructure, in stark contrast to his predecessor, Tim Kaine, who shut down rest areas,” Allen said. “Tolls at times may be appropriate for new construction when paid for by those who would use the road. However, I do not support the proposal to install tolls on the southern stretch of I-95. Southern Virginia already faces significant economic challenges and these tolls could disadvantage job-creating businesses in the region, and the hardworking Virginia families already suffering from skyrocketing fuel costs.”
McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said the governor respects Allen’s position.
“The fact is, in policy and politics there will always be the occasional disagreement among friends on a specific issue or two,” Martin said. “That’s par for the course”
Martin also added this defense of the administration’s tolling proposal:
“Since Governor McDonnell took office, this Administration has put the most new funding into transportation in Virginia since 1986. That has occurred through the utilization of a number of mechanisms. Tolls are one of those. The Governor believes placing a user fee on I-95 drivers, a large number of whom are from out of state, to help pay for its maintenance and capacity improvements makes sound fiscal sense, and provides critical new funding for transportation without raising taxes in a time of economic difficulty. The toll rate will be only 2 cents per mile. That will be the lowest rate on the East Coast. It will allow Virginia to raise $1.5 billion for improvements over the next 25 years. And the toll revenue will be used only on this section of Virginia’s I-95 corridor. In short, the money will be spent where it is raised. It will not go to other roads or regions and it will fund I-95 safety and construction projects that include pavement rehabilitation from Petersburg to the North Carolina border, bridge reconstruction, ramp reconstructions and major projects like upgrades to the I-95/I-85/460 interchange. Without toll revenue, these projects and many other similar projects are simply not possible within the confines of existing revenues. As we move forward, the Governor understands the possible impact of potential toll facilities on local communities and he is committed to working to limit that impact to the greatest extent possible.”
– Michael Sluss