Feds give Virginia conditional approval for tolls on I-95 - $50m/yr modernization concept (REVISED)
By Peter Samuel
FHWA administrator Victor Mendez has granted Virginia conditional approval to develop a detailed proposal for tolling VA/I-95 to support reconstruction and rehabilitation. The authority was given under the Interstate Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program which provides for a limited number of permits for tolling of interstates so long as the funds raised are used to support modernization within the corridor.
Conditional approval reserves a "slot" for Virginia to develop the project and seek approval with a detailed plan. The approval would cover projects along the whole of VA/I-95 - 179 miles, 286km - from the North Carolina state line to the Woodrow Wilson Bridge at the Potomac River. However under the concept being explored tolls would be applied at locations selected for significant improvement and expenditures, or for traffic management. In major stretches where no significant improvement was needed tolls would not be imposed.
Neither the text of Virginia's application nor a working paper discussed with FHWA in June this year has been released - officials say the thinking is tentative at this stage. The statement refers to work on 700 lane-miles of VA/I-95 which is about two-thirds of the total that is just under 1,100 lane-miles.
The federal approval was announced today by the Virginia governor Bob McDonnell in a press statement which says the approval came in a letter from Mendez dated September 14.
The letter calls for:
- details of specific short-term improvements proposed and why they were selected
- more details on how the project will support increased capacity
- details of 'maintenance of effort' on the tolled portion
- location of toll points and reason for these locations
These wheels don't move fast!
In April 2010 Virginia secretary of transportation Sean Connaughton submitted the proposal to toll I-95, and in January 2011 a formal expression of interest was filed with FHWA.
The preliminary estimate or concept is that tolls would generate around $50m/year.
The statement: "These toll revenues will help fund capacity expansion, operational improvements, safety improvements, and pavement and structure reconstruction and rehabilitation throughout the corridor. Examples of specific projects that could be funded through toll revenues 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."
Secretary Connaughton is quoted: The entire I-95 corridor averages a level of service of 'D' and some more urban portions are 'F' during peak periods. This level of service is unacceptable anywhere, let alone on the most traveled corridor in Virginia. The ability to implement tolling will provide the revenues necessary to improve I-95."
VDOT Commissioner Greg Whirley: "VDOT will work closely with FHWA to complete the steps outline by Administrator Mendez, as well as any necessary environmental documents. Our goal is to complete these steps as quickly as possible so we can develop and implement a satisfactory toll agreement with the FHWA."
The state governor Bob McDonnell: "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. 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. The Commonwealth cannot continue to be a leader in economic development and job creation if we do not address our transportation needs. Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed my transportation plan setting the framework for investing $4 billion in our transportation network over the next three years. The ability to toll I-95 will help leverage this investment by funding transportation improvements in this vital corridor."
The pilot program slots
The reconstruction and rehab pilot program has "three slots."
VA/I-81 had a slot for several years to toll trucks and build truck lanes but that project was abandoned, and with this approval FHWA rescinds the VA/I-81 approval, freeing up a slot.
Pennsylvania had a highly publicized and controversial slot for PA/I-80 which was rejected by the Feds under the Bush administration because - contrary to the intent of federal law - the state government under Gov Ed Rendell wanted to use a significant proportion of the toll revenues outside the corridor.
copy of Mendez letter:
see previous report in June: