Editorial: We feel your pain
Residents of localities along the I-95 corridor on Virginia’s southern border—we feel your pain.
Gov. Bob McDonnell has proposed placing tolls on the highway near Emporia to help pay the state’s share of interstate maintenance. The proposal, and the negative response it has generated from residents opposed to the idea, are all too familiar to folks here in the Middle Peninsula, who are still shelling out 85 cents (or $2 for those without an E-ZPass transponder) for a "temporary" toll to cover the construction bonds for a bridge widening project that took place 16 years ago.
About a decade after that project, VDOT constructed two beautiful new spans crossing the Pamunkey and Mattaponi rivers at the Town of West Point—with no tolls. Also consider that the West Point bridges cost about $30 million more than the Coleman Bridge project.
That gets to just one of the inequities of tolls. While it’s a user tax, it’s an unfair one. Why should commuters going through West Point to Richmond get a free pass, while Middle Peninsula residents have to pay every time they cross the river? Tolls represent an inefficient, regressive tax to pay for a public utility. They also require a significant upfront investment in terms of toll booths, and then personnel to operate the facility. And the operators of the E-ZPass system get to take their share. Not to mention, toll booths cause traffic bottlenecks. The list goes on.
Imposing a toll has a certain appeal, especially to someone trying to avoid being as seen raising taxes. The backers can claim to be passing along much of the cost to out-of-state drivers.
But there’s another way to do that … a much more efficient way. A collection system is already in place that would spread the burden among residents and those just visiting. There’s no need to build toll booths, hire additional toll collectors and maintenance personnel, etc. The solution is simple: Raise the gasoline tax.
The last time Virginia’s gas tax rate was changed was 1986, when it was increased to 17.5 cents/gallon. In 1986, the average gas price was under $1. Today, more than 25 years later, although prices have nearly quadrupled, we still pay just 17.5 cents/gallon. An increase of a penny or two per gallon would go virtually unnoticed, but could raise tens of millions of dollars each year, money desperately needed to fix our crumbling infrastructure—if only someone had the political will to propose it.
Maybe then VDOT would have enough in its coffers to pay off the Coleman Bridge, too.