Should another Virginia highway add tolling?

One Virginia lawmaker has an idea for making I-81 safer: toll truck drivers on the road in Virginia and use the revenue to make the highway safer. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON — It’s an old idea that’s being floated around again: tolling trucks on Interstate 81 in Virginia.

I-81 is known as an accident plagued interstate, but one Virginia lawmaker thinks tolling truck drivers on the road and using that revenue could make the highway safer.

Va. State Sen. Mark Obenshain’s proposed bill directs the Commonwealth Transportation Board to study the feasibility of using truck tolls on I-81 to fund safety improvements along the highway.

I-81 is a major thoroughfare for tractor-trailers traveling between the northeast part of the country and the south and west. The interstate stretches nearly 325 miIes through Virginia from the border with Tennessee to West Virginia.

VDOT says between 19 and 40 percent of all vehicles on I-81 are trucks.

“Almost half of statewide truck traffic runs along this interstate and about a fifth of crashes involving a heavy truck,” said Obenshain. “With over 2,000 crashes per year and 30 crashes a year with a clearance time of greater than six hours, we must be willing to look at creative methods to find substantive solutions to this problem.”

Obenshain pointed to similar programs that have passed in both Kansas and Rhode Island.

He said the tolls could lead to a stable source of transportation funding, specifically for I-81. Obenshain’s proposed bill stipulates that all funds raised from I-81 tolls be used exclusively for that interstate.

His bill would identify and target improvements for specific segments of 1-81 while also developing a tolling policy that aims to minimize the impact on local traffic and the impact of trucks diverting from the interstate onto other roads.

VDOT had a conditional provisional acceptance to toll trucks on I-81 since 2003 under the Federal Highway Administration Interstate Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program.

Former Va. Gov. Bob McDonnell rescinded that approval in 2011 as part of a deal to toll drivers on Interstate 95.

Obeshain is a Republican who represents the 26th District that includes the city of Harrisonburg and Warren, Shenandoah, Page, Rappahannock and part of Rockingham counties.

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