At the request of the Northam Administration, Republican State Senators Mark Obenshain of Rockingham County and Bill Carrico of Grayson County co-sponsored legislation in the 2018 General Assembly directing the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB) to study the feasibility of imposing tolls on large trucks traveling on Interstate 81. The bill sponsors’ stated goal is to generate revenue to pay for infrastructure improvements along the I-81 corridor. Senator Obenshain points out that about one-fifth of the crashes on I-81 involve at least one heavy truck. “With over 2,000 crashes per year, and 30 crashes a year with a clearance time greater than six hours, we must be willing to look at creative methods to find substantive solutions to this problem,” Obenshain said.
The bill would set several stipulations for the proposed tolling program. Under the stipulations, the Commonwealth Transportation Board would: (1) Identify how to improve specific parts of I-81; (2) Develop a tolling policy that minimizes effects on local traffic and the diversion of truck traffic from I-81 (which raises some constitutional questions); and (3) Use all funds generated by the tolls for the benefit of I-81. While these stipulations may appear simple enough, they all could have wide-ranging impacts on all truckers. These impacts will not just be logistical in nature but could result in significant financial and economic burdens on small businesses in the I-81 corridor and beyond. In short, this proposed action should not be taken lightly or ignored.
Senator Obenshain’s office argues that “[i]n Rhode Island, an economic impact study predicts $60 million annual revenue [from truck-only tolls] to be leveraged for transportation infrastructure improvements.” In mid-February, Rhode Island began installing the first two truck-only toll gantries. After the construction is complete, the gantries will be tested for a month before they begin charging trucks.
Once tolling begins, the Rhode Island Trucking Association plans to file a legal challenge to the tolls. “Installation of the unconstitutional truck-only tolling gantries does nothing more than frame-up timing for the State’s costly legal battle that will be funded with taxpayer dollars,” Rhode Island Trucking Association President Christopher Maxwell wrote in an email. “The RI Trucking Association and the American Trucking Associations are supremely confident in our position that tolling only trucks is illegal. We look forward to a favorable legal decision that protects Rhode Island’s working families and small businesses.”
This is not the first time this issue has come up. VDOT was granted a conditional provisional acceptance to toll trucks on I-81 in 2003 under the Federal Highway Administration Interstate Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program. During the administration of former Governor Bob McDonnell that approval was transferred in 2011 to Interstate 95 as part of his plan to collect tolls on cars and trucks at the North Carolina border and in Caroline County.
While the goals of increased highway safety and infrastructure improvements are laudable, this proposed tolling program ignores several critical safety and economic issues. First, the proposal may force trucks off the interstate and onto back roads. This could be more hazardous for all drivers. Additionally, these tolls could be prohibitively burdensome on trucking companies, and will likely have an adverse economic impact on the many truck-dependent manufacturers, distribution centers, logistics companies, and agriculture industries located in the I-81 corridor.
As a result of the efforts of the Virginia Trucking Association (VTA) and allied organizations, the bill was amended to soften some of the anti-truck language and expand the scope of the study to examine other financing options. The CTB has to complete its meetings by November 30, 2018 and report its findings to the Governor and the General Assembly by January 9, 2019. Under current Virginia law, tolls cannot be collected for the use of I-81 unless authorized by legislation that has to pass the General Assembly and be approved by the Governor.
Supporters of truck-only tolls are using inaccurate and misleading information to garner support for the idea of truck-only tolls on I-81. The trucking industry likely faces a long and expensive battle to monitor the CTB study and must be prepared to fight legislation seeking to impose truck-only tolls in the 2019 General Assembly.
The VTA is the only statewide organization in Virginia dedicated solely to representing the interests of trucking fleet operators and their allied vendors. Over the past year or so, the VTA has lost a number of its largest financial supporters to mergers and acquisitions. To continue to be the effective voice of trucking in Virginia, the VTA needs the financial support of all trucking fleets that operate in and through the state. The truck-only toll battle is one the industry cannot afford to lose.
In addition to the truck-only toll study, for the rest of 2018, the VTA will be representing its members’ interests on other issues such as 91,000-pound interstate truck weights, privatization of CDL testing, workforce grants for CDL training, excessive towing charges and minimum insurance issues.
For more information about these issues and how you can become involved, please contact VTA President & CEO Dale Bennett at 804-355-5371 or email@example.com or Steve Setliff of Setliff Law at 804-377-1261 or firstname.lastname@example.org.