Virginia Lawmaker Brags About Plan To “Primarily” Toll Truckers, “Penalize Toll Avoiders”

Richmond, Virginia – The author of newly introduced legislation in Virginia, which would authorize tolling along the 325-mile stretch on I-81 through Virginia, is coming under withering criticism from many in the trucking community.

Virginia State Senator Mark Obenshain, sponsor of SB 1716, tweeted last week and then again on Monday about his intentions in crafting the new legislation which he says will raise $150 million per year for “crucial safety improvements” to the interstate. In his already infamous tweets, Senator Obenshain seemed to boast that the burden of the new tolling would fall “primarily on heavy trucks.”

 

 

 

The new tolling measure would set rates at 17 cents per mile for trucks and 11 cents per mile for cars during the day. This would cost truckers approximately $55 to travel the entirety of I-81 through Virginia. According to the new proposal, toll rates for heavy trucks would be reduced by 50% during the evening to encourage truckers to travel in off-peak times.

Locals, Obenshain points out, will be able to travel 200 miles round trip per day for free. Plus, annual passes will be available to non-local commuters for only $30.

This puts truckers disproportionately bearing the brunt of the costs which will undoubtedly be challenged in federal court as a violation of the Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution. The Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) just filed suit against Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and a host of other state agencies for implementing “truck-only” tolling measures along I-90.

 

In that suit, OOIDA argues a similar point saying that the new Indiana tolling measure is “burdensome and discriminatory” and thus violates the Commerce Clause.

Additionally, the American Trucking Associations is warning Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and state lawmakers in a new letter to “think carefully about these issues before Virginia takes any further steps in the direction it appears to be heading, and to bear in mind that the auto-only annual pass option will be vulnerable to a legal challenge if it moves forward.”

Jennifer Hall, ATA General Counsel and Executive Vice President of Legal Affairs, argues, “user fees will bear no relationship to use of the tolled roads, tolls on commercial vehicles will be excessive in relation to the benefits conferred, and the plan favors noncommercial vehicles over commercial vehicles, which power interstate commerce.”

Truckers React

To no ones surprise, truckers are outraged by such blatant measures targeting them for additional state revenues. A sampling from Transportation Nation Network’s Facebook post on our original report on January 8, 2019, outlining Virginia lawmakers’ plan, illicited an outpouring of criticism.

 

 

A movement has already begun on Twitter to defeat Obenshain at the ballot box.

 

 

Keep Tolls Off 81 Campaign Launched

It’s not just truckers and trucking groups who are speaking out against the proposed legislation. Stephanie Kane with the Alliance of Toll-Free Interstates (ATFI) says this is a terrible idea.

“It cost 8-11% of every dollar collected just for collections, just for collections, that’s things like credit card fees and processing and that doesn’t even take into account personnel benefits or equipment,” she said.

Calling the new plan an “undue burden on interstate commerce” for truckers, Kane said the prospects of certain court challenges will only make matters worse. “So not only do tolls have a lengthy approval process but if the state gets into a lawsuit we could be dragging out funding for 81 for years to come.”

ATFI has has created a web site opposing the new legislation, www.keeptollsoff81.com. In an interview on Monday with WFIR in Virginia, Kane told the news outlet that more than 2,400 letters opposing tolling I-81 had been sent by Virginia residents to Governor Northam and state legislators in the first 6 days since the group launched the “Keep Tolls Off 81” campaign.

 

Don’t Even Think About Taking An Alternate Route

Senator Obenshain and Virginia lawmakers who support SB 1716 are also cooking up more goodies for truckers who might consider avoiding I-81 by taking alternate routes. According to a release from Obenshain, he said “there will be electronic measures to ensure that there are no incentives for heavy trucks to exit the Interstate and reenter after a toll.”

Obenshain said, “The bill establishes a video-monitoring system and automatic vehicle identification system to monitor and penalize trucks and vehicles who exit and re-enter Interstate 81 to avoid a toll.” The senator argues such a video-monitoring system would be implemented to “protect commuters on Route 11 and other adjoining roads from dealing with traffic and safety concerns from diversionary drivers.”

There is no word yet on what penalties for those caught avoiding the tolls will face or exactly how it will be enforced. Governor Ralph Northam is expected to give his final approval to the measure should it be adopted by state lawmakers.

TNN will continue to follow the story.

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