MILFORD – The Caroline County Board of Supervisors has adopted a resolution opposing the imposition of a toll on Interstate 95.
The board voted unanimously at its meeting Tuesday night to adopt the resolution, which will go to Gov. Bob McDonnell, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, and the county’s legislative delegation.
State officials have not targeted Caroline for the proposed toll although it is a secondary option. The chief locality under consideration is Sussex County.
However, during a recent call-in show on a Richmond radio program, McDonnell said he would have state transportation officials consider Caroline.
The governor’s remark followed a question from an Emporia official who suggested the state should look at putting the toll in Caroline because its section of the interstate carries more traffic. In Sussex, about 35,000 vehicles use I-95 daily; in Caroline, about 85,000 vehicles travel on the interstate.
Initially, the tolls are estimated to be $4 for cars and $12 for tractor-trailers and would be charged on northbound and southbound vehicles. The Virginia Department of Transportation estimates that tolling would raise $35 million to $40 million a year to pay for structural, capacity and safety improvements throughout the corridor. The highway needs significant repair and expansion, and current funding is inadequate to rebuild aging bridges and replace cracking pavement, among other things, according to VDOT.
VDOT has applied to the Federal Highway Administration for permission to place tolls on I-95. The state will conduct public hearings this fall on the proposed tolls.
A number of other local governments along the I-95 corridor previously have adopted resolutions opposing tolls on the highway. They include the cities and towns of Ashland, Colonial Heights, Dumfries, Emporia, Hopewell, Jarratt, Lawrenceville, Petersburg, Stony Creek, Wakefield, and Waverly, and counties of Dinwiddie, Greensville, Hanover, Prince George, Sussex, and Spotsylvania.
According to VDOT, major repairs and improvements to I-95 are necessary. The work could cost more than $12 billion over 25 years, an average of $484 million per year. That’s $9.6 billion more than will be available at current funding levels. Based on VDOT estimates, tolls could generate $25 million to $30 million annually. Initial construction costs would be about $50 million.
Although VDOT has proposed collecting a toll in Sussex County, the Caroline Board of Supervisors were told at their July 10 meeting that the agency also has identified a site in Caroline as a second option in case the Sussex site is rejected or a second site is approved. The Caroline site is near mile marker 100 south of Carmel Church.
The board’s resolution notes that a toll plaza at mile marker 100 would cause truck drivers near Carmel Church to seek alternative routes to avoid paying tolls. Diverted traffic would cause the state to lose $30 million in gas tax revenue from the truck service facilities at Carmel Church. Those same truck service facilities generate $750,000 in tax revenue annually for Caroline County.
The toll plaza would hurt other Caroline gas stations, restaurants and motels. “The loss in revenue to Caroline could be extreme,” the resolution says. Revenue from motel occupancy taxes and meals taxes would drop. Employees at affected business might lose their jobs.
“Caroline County would be hindered in its ability to recruit distribution centers and other businesses that require ease of access to Interstate 95,” the resolution says. “Tolling facilities would most certainly disqualify Caroline for many projects by mere proximity.”
The resolution was based on an analysis of the proposed toll by Gary Wilson, the county’s director of economic development and tourism.
“Tolling stations near Caroline County thus would spawn a cascade of revenue losses for Caroline,” Wilson wrote in a briefing memorandum for the supervisors.
“I understand revenue must be raised somehow, whether it’s a fuel tax or tolls,” said Supervisor Wayne Acors. “But tolls in Caroline County certainly are not the answer.”
Virginia’s gas tax, 17.5 cents per gallon, has not changed since 1986. North Carolina’s gas tax is 35.2 cents, while Maryland’s is 23.5 cents, and West Virginia’s is 20.5 cents.