Virginia seeks I-95 tolls along N.C. border

Posted May 10, 2010 1:43 p.m. EDT
Updated May 11, 2010 3:46 p.m. EDT

— Virginia's governor has asked federal highway officials to establish tolls on Interstate 95 near the North Carolina border to pay for repairs that he says are sorely needed along the busy interstate.

The tolls of $1 or $2 for each axle would generate $30 million to $60 million annually, Gov. Bob McDonnell wrote in a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Virginia would be the only state south of Maryland to charge tolls on the interstate, which runs from Maine to Florida.

North Carolina Transportation Secretary Gene Conti said in a statement that states from Virgina to Florida have been working together to modernize and improve the I-95 corridor.

Tolls along I-95 within North Carolina are an option to pay for needed improvements, Conti said. A two-year study that began in 2009 would consider the impact of tolls on local drivers, as well as interstate traffic, and would look at revenue-sharing opportunities among the states along the I-95 corridor, he said.

McDonnell said I-95 sees more accidents than almost any other major highway or road in the state.

"Interstate Route 95 is one of the nation's largest and most important transportation corridors, linking commercial and economic centers and tourist destinations up and down the East Coast," McDonnell wrote in the letter, dated April 30 but released Monday.

"Currently, however, significant portions of Interstate Route 95 have deficient pavements and structures," McDonnell added.

From the North Carolina border to Fredericksburg, more than $600 million in needed safety improvements have been identified, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton said in an interview.

That stretch of highway - approximately 126 miles - records 21 deaths and 917 injuries per year, he added.

"This is essentially one the most heavily traveled roads in Virginia and the United States," Connaughton said. "It is essentially American's Main Street."

But Connaughton said I-95 needs a range of safety upgrades, including new road surfaces, guardrails and shoulder improvements. Fewer federal and state dollars are available to do the work, he added.

In his letter to LaHood, McDonnell noted that VDOT has seen budget reductions of $4.6 billion over the past two years. He said toll revenue would allow Virginia to redirect maintenance dollars to other transportation projects in the state.

McDonnell said he and Connaughton "believe that the imposition of tolls on I-95 is the most efficient and timely method to generate the much-needed revenue to make these improvements to the corridor."

Connaughton said tolls would be collected from the 36,000-38,000 vehicles that travel north and south along I-95 at the Virginia-North Carolina border. He said North Carolina was also considering tolls along the interstate.

North Carolina highway officials did not immediately respond to a request from The Associated Press for comment.

If approved by federal highway officials, a proposed toll area would have to undergo an environmental review. The governor's office said the earliest a toll would be established is 2012.

The tolling requested by Virginia is being sought under the provisional acceptance of tolls along Interstate 81. The shift in authority to I-95 is being sought because the I-81 project has been delayed.

Connaughton said a meeting is planned but not scheduled between Virginia and federal transportation officials.