Federal agency conditionally approves VA plan to toll I-95

Virginia is poised to become only one of three states to implement a federally-sanctioned toll to existing interstate infrastructure. The proposed toll will affect commuters on heavily trafficked I-95. Where is the toll going, and how much does the state look to earn as result of it?

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has given preliminary approval to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) to toll I-95 near the border that the state shares with North Carolina. The tolling project is slated to be one of three new tolls across the U.S. under the federal Interstate Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program.

“I-95 is one of the most important and heavily traveled highway corridors in the country, linking population and commercial centers up and down the East Coast,” said VA Gov. Bob McDonnel in a press release. “Limited funds and growing capital and maintenance needs have led to deficient pavements and structures, congestion, higher crash density and safety concerns. This approval is a major step toward funding critical capacity and infrastructure improvements needed in this corridor.”

VDOT estimates it could generate $250 million over the first five years of the toll program and over $50 million annually thereafter. Proposed uses of this generated revenue include widening I-95 between I-295 and the North Carolina border, enhancing Intelligent Transportation Systems and installing over-height detectors on bridges, shoulder widening and the installation of guardrails, and improving pavements on more than 700 lane-miles within the corridor.

The federal Interstate Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program allows up to three projects within the U.S. to initiate tolls to help fund interstate facilities (highway, bridge, or tunnel). With the preliminary approval, the U.S. Department of Transportation has reserved one of the three slots for Virginia’s I-95 toll project. The conditional approval allows for VDOT to proceed with necessary studies.

VA Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton, at the Governor’s request, submitted a toll proposal to FHWA in April 2010, and VDOT submitted a formal expression of interest in January of 2011. FHWA Administrator Victor Mendez granted the conditional provisional approval and outlined steps required to move forward in a letter last week.

“VDOT will work closely with FHWA to complete the steps outline by Administrator Mendez, as well as any necessary environmental documents,” said VDOT Commissioner Greg Whirley.  “Our goal is to complete these steps as quickly as possible so we can develop and implement a satisfactory toll agreement with the FHWA.”

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