Twenty years ago the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) tore down the tolls on Interstate 95. According to Tom Hawthorne, who according to other VDOT employees has been at VDOT forever, worked to remove toll booths located at Belvidere Street, in Richmond; Falling Creek, at Chippenham Parkway; Temple Avenue, in Colonial Heights; Crater Road, in Petersburg; and on Interstate 85 at Route 1.
That was 1992, but now there’s a movement to bring at least one toll booth that could come back to Interstate 95 at Jarratt, Virginia. VDOT held a public meeting at John Tyler Community College (JTCC) last Wednesday as part of the process of informing the public of the proposal. Many of the non-VDOT employees, numbering less than 100, were from Jarratt or areas north and south of the mostly farming community.
Michael A. Estes, P.E., director of strategic initiative for VDOT, led those in attendance through a presentation, which informed them of the need for funds to solve maintenance issues on the Interstate 95 corridor. He said one of the biggest challenges was funding. Estes said over the next 25 years the corridor is expected to need $12.2 billion for maintenance. Currently only $2.1 billion can be anticipated from state and Federal sources.
“The tolling proposal we brought to you today is not the only answer to funding reconstruction and rehabilitation projects,” Estes said. “If tolling were to move forward we want to know whether some of these projects [displayed outside the meeting room] would make sense to you.”
Recently other sources of funding roads in Virginia have made the news. According to the Center for State Tax Policy, “Governor Bob McDonnell (R-VA) has recently hinted that he isn’t opposed to raising the state’s gasoline tax, and a recent poll found Virginia voters want more spending on transportation although they would prefer tolls to higher taxes.”
“We’re the pilot program for tolls,” said Roger Craft from Jarratt. “Where else will you start seeing tolls going up?”
It’s not just the toll that will cost Craft $10 a day (at full toll rate) to get to and from his job at Greensville Correction Center, he said it’s also a property value and safety issue. “My property value will go down if people know they have to pay tolls every day, and another thing, if people get off Interstate 95 and onto Route 301 at Stony Creek it gets real dangerous there.”
Craft’s wife Debbie added, “There are a lot of deer out there, and they start coming up on the road as soon as it starts getting dark.”
At the full toll rate typical commuter would pay $178 a month in tolls, but various discount plan for local commuters in select zip codes could get a discount of as much as 83 percent, which would reduce a local commuter’s tolls to $28 a month. But nothing is set in stone, as Estes said, “We’re still getting input.
Two public meetings were held last week: one in Sussex County and one in Chester at JTCC. A third was held in Fredericksburg on December 17.