Virginia applies to Feds for OK to toll I-95 near NC border

May 10, 2010

Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell says his state has applied to the Federal Highway Administration for permission to collect tolls on I-95 near the North Carolina border, an announcement today quoting him: "the ability to toll Interstate 95 at the border will... help the (state) generate the revenue necessary to make much needed infrastructure and safety improvements in the I-95 corridor to better serve the traveling public and increase economic productivity."  

We haven't so far seen a copy of the actual application letter from Virginia secretary of transportation Sean Connaughton to FHWA. But from the Governor's statement the proposal seems to be carefully formulated to fit the requirements of the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation program for tolls on interstates. Pennsylvania applied under the same provisions of federal law for tolling I-80 but the proposal was part of a plan under which the Turnpike in tolling I-80 was required by state legislation (Act 44) to turn over about $500m a year from I-80 tolls to the state for use outside I-80.

The whole thrust of the Virginia proposal is to generate funds for improvements to I-95 itself.

The statement says further: "Interstate Route 95 is one of the nation's largest and most important transportation corridors, linking commercial and economic centers and tourist destinations up and down the East Coast.  However, significant portions of Interstate Route 95 have deficient pavements and structures.  These deficiencies contribute to Interstate Route 95 having one of the highest accident rates of all of the (state's) major transportation corridors." 

$30m to $60m/year

Continuing the direct quote: "The Virginia Department of Transportation estimates that tolling along Interstate 95 can generate between $30 to $60 million annually, if tolls are $1 to $2 per axle. All revenues generated through tolling will be used exclusively in the Interstate 95 corridor.

"Revenues will first be directed towards making a number of safety improvements throughout the corridor, and then making improvements to the pavement conditions and infrastructure.  Once these improvements are made, the (state) will begin making capacity improvements where needed." (end quotes)

Toll point likely to be near Skippers

The toll point would probably be located in the first four miles (7km) of I-95 north of the North Carolina line - before the first interchange Moore's Ferry Road, near the township of Skippers.

Daily traffic is about 35k, but with an above average proportion of large trucks - about 20% or 7k/day, similar to the Ambassador Bridge, the busiest truck route US-Canada.

Shunpiker route via Skippers 4 miles, 14 min longer

There would however be a 'shunpikers' route via closely paralleling US301 named Skippers Road and going through the small Virginia settlement of Skippers. (see map nearby)

A 10 mile (16km) diversion from 6 miles (10km) of I-95 using VA629 Moore's Ferry Road VA and the NC48 or Pleasant Hill Road interchange with NC/I-95 one mile south of the state line would avoid the toll point. At an average speed of 30mph v 60mph on the interstate the time would be 20mins for the shunpikers v 6mins on the interstate - assuming tolling is conducted at highway speed with all-electronic toll (AET) collection.

A shorter but lower standard diversion west doesn't look very promising except to the most intrepid shunpiker.

Given North Carolina's commitment to AET and the much lower capital costs, all-electronic seems the likely choice of technology over electronic tolling (ET) plus separate cash lanes.

Interstate precedents

I-95 has always been heavily tolled.

In Virginia itself the central 35 mile (56km) section of I-95 in the Richmond metro area was built as the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike in 1958. Tolls were collected on this segment of I-95 from 1958 to 1992.

In Maryland I-95 through Baltimore is tolled at the harbor through the Fort McHenry Tunnel.

North of the Baltimore Beltway I-95 to the Delaware line is the Kennedy Highway run by Maryland's state toll authority. It was once fully tolled but now is funded by a single toll plaza up toward the Delaware line.

The Delaware Turnpike is the country's second biggest I-95 border toller with its mainline plaza just beyond the Maryland line.

New Hampshire and Maine also toll I-95 near their respective borders.

The last three are all rebuilding and modernizing their I-95 toll plazas.

Much of the New Jersey Turnpike is I-95.

One of the largest grossing toll plazas in the country is at Ft Lee NJ on the western approach to the George Washington Bridge over the Hudson River, I-95 NJ-NY. There the Port Authority New York New Jersey is the premier I-95 toller.

Through New York state I-95 is known as the New England Thruway and tolled by the State Thruway Authority at a toll plaza in New Rochelle.

I-95 in Connecticut was almost entirely built with toll revenue bonds as the Connecticut Turnpike but, like Virginia's Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike was detolled. Tolls ended on CT/I-95 in 1985.

North and South Carolina have both studied tolling I-95 but no firm plans are in place.

Tolling I-95 in Georgia has not - to our knowledge - been discussed.

Florida has recently opened toll lanes on I-95 north of Miami, but for long distances Florida's Turnpike runs parallel with I-95 the freeway.

VA/US460 P3 tolls proposed

The new administration in Virginia is also moving to revive US460 improvements based on private sector tolling Petersburg southeast to Suffolk in the Hampton Roads area.

Conceptual proposals are being solicited for the 89km (55 mile) expressway. It would roughly follow the route of the existing surface arterial US460 but with grade separations and controlled access the 2+2 laner would provide a higher level of service and improved safety.

The route is considered important for hurricane evacuation, there being at present only one expressway standard highway inland - I-64 to Richmond.

US460 parallels I-64 but on the southern side of the James River/Hampton Roads estuary. With I-64 so dependent on bridge-tunnel connections south across the Hampton Roads waters to Norfolk, and Norfolk the leading US Navy base, an alternative expressway standard route along US460 has military and strategic value too.

The project is fully permitted following environmental review 2005 to 2008 and has a federal record of decision issued in 2008. Reps.

Pennsylvania border tolls proposal

In Pennsylvania several state legislators are proposing border tolls as a way of generating funds for their interstates.

Bill Kortz of Dravosburg, Michael O'Brien of Philadelphia and Scott Conklin of Centre County responding to a call by Governor Rendell for new ideas on funding have suggested toll points on:

- I-79 in western Pennsylvania

- I-90 in northwestern Pennsylvania

- I-80

- I-95 in the Philadelphia area

- I-78 and I-84 in the northeast

They said these could raise between $230m and $300m/year levying $1 on cars and $5 on trucks.

TOLLROADSnews 2010-05-10

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