I-81 funding option could be challenged
A possible funding option for the Interstate 81 improvement plan – tolls on commercial-only trucks – could face a legal challenge.
P. Dale Bennett, president and CEO of Virginia Trucking Association, is among those who object to the commercial trucks-only toll proposal.
“We agree that I-81 has safety and reliability issues that desperately need to be addressed,” Bennett said. “The Virginia Trucking Association, however, believes that any proposal calling for truck-only tolls violates the anti-discrimination provisions of the commerce clause of the U. S. Constitution.”
The commerce clause allows Congress to regulate commerce. It also prohibits state laws and regulations that interfere with or discriminate against interstate commerce.
Bennett pointed out what could be a test case that could impact I-81. The commerce clause states that fees paid should impact all traffic that benefit from and cause impact, meaning both commercial and non-commercial, trucking associations argue.
On June 10, Rhode Island started charging commercial trucks at two tolling gantries, an option similar to what Virginia will study.
The American Trucking Association confirmed it plans to file a lawsuit against Rhode Island’s truck-only toll, said Darrin Roth, the vice president of highway policy for the association.
Del. Christopher Collins, R-Winchester, was part of a group that in February called on the state to work with the federal government to see if there would be any money for the project.
So far everything is in the exploratory research stage, including using tolls to help fund the improvements, he said.
“Until we have better numbers, I am open to looking at all ideas. I voted for research to see how it might possibly work and what it can be,” Collins said.
Another possibility for funding could be to see if money already allocated for projects coming within the next five years could be diverted to I-81 improvements.
“We would like to see if I-81 is more important (than other projects),” Collins said.
U.S. Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-McLean, has said she would try to help with that diversion, he said, stressing she has no control over federal highway money and can only ask.
Calls to Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, were not returned before deadline.
The Virginia Department of Transportation recently launched the I-81 Corridor Improvement Plan. As directed in Senate Bill 971, staff from the Commonwealth Transportation Board and several other state agencies are studying I-81 to identify priorities along the 325 miles in the state and potential revenue sources that could be dedicated to improvements.
The board will study financing options for improvements, including evaluating a regional fuel tax, the use of high-occupancy toll lanes, and tolls on heavy commercial vehicles. At the same time, they are to evaluate concepts to minimize the impact of truck-only tolls on local truck traffic and diversion of truck traffic.
The I-81 improvement plan is also expected to:
• Identify segments of the interstate for improvement based on safety needs determined by examining both crash rate and crash frequency,congestion and incident-related delays and multi-hour lane closures.
• Identify improvements for each segment.
• Come up with strategies corridor-wide to manage incidents.