Study proposes tolls along I-81 to pay for improvements

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The Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan proposes tolling heavy commercial trucks to help build revenue for much needed improvements along the interstate. 

The plan is in a data-gathering stage right now, researching the impacts of tolling heavy commercial vehicles. The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) says the data being collected and studied will help them understand all potential impacts. 

“They’re certainly going to look at every aspect of the economic impacts, the traffic impacts and of issues that we will encounter along the way,” says VDOT Spokesperson Michelle Earl. 

Still, the idea of tolling leaves truck drivers like Ken Gustin checking their wallets. 

“It adds up real fast. Over $300 in a heartbeat, and that’s out of your money that you’re trying to save,” Gustin says. 

He owns an independent company and drives the truck for it as well. For Gustin, the cost of fuel, existing tolls and overnight parking fees for his truck are already a burden, without piling on additional tolls. 

“Overall it just has a really heavy impact on your driving because it’s more money you have to put out,” he says. 

The grassroots organization Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates (ATFI) echoes Gustin’s sentiment. They believe tolling commercial vehicles using I-81 will raise costs for everyone in the community, burdening restaurants and stores along the interstate who may face higher shipping fees from manufacturers. 

“It very quickly causes the cost of goods to go up in any community where there are tolls. It is an underhanded tax,” says Stephanie Kane of the alliance. 

They also argue that tolling interstates negatively impacts everyone in the community. 

“That’s why we’re fighting it. Not only does it impact trucks, but if you think as an everyday driver just because it’s a truck toll that you won’t be affected you’re absolutely wrong,” says Kane. 

VDOT emphasized to News Channel 11 that the legislation behind the study is clear: everyday drivers will not be affected.

“Senate Bill 971 is very specific about what the economic study is to include, and it is very specific about commuters, general traffic and motorists not being a part of the study.”

The alliance wants the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan to move forward with other revenue building solutions besides tolling.

“Virginians do not want tolls on any of their interstates especially ones that they’re able to freely access now. We pay for our roads with the fuel tax that’s how it’s always been paid for. Tolls specifically have the most negative impact,” Kane says.

More information about the Interstate 81 Corridor Improvement Plan can be found on their website. The plan is also working to identify targeted improvements along the entire length of I-81 and potential revenue sources that could be dedicated to those improvements. They are asking the public to weigh in on where problem areas are located along the corridor.

Public opinion can be submitted on that website through August 6.

Once the study is completed in November it will be passed along to the Virginia general assembly. 

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