Funding for Interstate 81 upgrades could also restore money Northern Virginia lost as part of last year’s Metro funding agreement, depending on a General Assembly vote next week.
Late Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam proposed increased truck registration fees across Virginia, a higher diesel tax to more closely match neighboring states, and an expansion of the additional gas tax charged in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads to include all areas along I-81.
The plan eliminates the idea of tolls along the corridor, which had the support of a number of key lawmakers but did not get over the finish line in part due to lawmakers elsewhere in the state interested in broader transportation improvements. The I-81 bills that eventually passed the General Assembly simply called for more study.
This plan was among those floated during the session, but was not voted on by the entire General Assembly, so it could gain support. The Northam administration strongly suggested it planned to amend the bill only if it appeared an agreement had been worked out.
A portion of the additional truck registration fees and diesel tax revenue would be distributed to I-81 corridor improvement projects based on the percentage of the state’s truck miles traveled on I-81. Another portion would be given to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority based on the percentage of truck miles driven on interstates in Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties and the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas and Manassas Park.
The remaining money from the increased truck registration and diesel taxes would be designated for interstate improvements across Virginia, with a focus on highways with at least 10 percent of total interstate truck miles traveled.
The diesel tax increase to 2.03 percent of the statewide average wholesale price per gallon would begin July 1, 2021, but other changes for the calculation of taxes paid by trucks passing through the state would be set starting this summer. The registration fee changes would also begin later this year.
In addition, everywhere along I-81 from Winchester, Frederick County and Clarke County all the way to Bristol in Grayson County, the regular gas and diesel tax paid would go up, with a 2.1 percent wholesale tax added. Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads drivers already pay the additional tax, with that money designated for local projects.
In this case, the money would be designated specifically for I-81 corridor improvements.
The governor’s proposed amendments, to be voted on in the General Assembly’s one-day reconvened session next week, provide for an end to that local gas tax if the money is used for any other reason.
Northam also offered amendments to a number of other bills at or near Tuesday’s deadline for him to act. These include an effort to get more low-income taxpayers refunds, to toughen ‘move over law’ penalties to make it reckless driving to speed past tow truck drivers as well as law enforcement, to include foster care placement as a reason a state worker should qualify for paid parental leave, to more specifically spell out anti-gerrymandering requirements, and to make protections for federal workers furloughed in future government shutdowns effective immediately rather than starting in July.