Federal Highway Administration grants conditional preliminary approval to North Carolina to pursue tolls on I-95; truckers object to additional tax on roadway that receives federal funds
GRAIN VALLEY, Missouri
February 22, 2012
(Land Line Magazine)
– The Federal Highway Administration has granted conditional preliminary approval to North Carolina to pursue tolls on Interstate 95. Truckers and other highway users continue to reject the idea of an additional tax on a roadway that already receives federal funds.
With preliminary approval granted on Friday, Feb. 17, North Carolina now occupies the third and final slot in a pilot program that allows three interstates to be reconstructed or rehabilitated using tolls. Missouri holds preliminary approval for I-70, and Virginia possesses the designation for its portion of I-95.
The pilot program, called the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program, has been on the Federal Highway Administration’s books since 1998, but to date no state has gone all the way to make the conversion.
OOIDA opposes the double taxation that interstate tolls would create.
“This obviously represents the next step in North Carolina’s effort to install toll taxes on motorists and truckers,” said OOIDA Director of Legislative Affairs Ryan Bowley.
“They’re very fast to talk about the need to toll the road, but there’s no commitment to using existing revenue to improve that corridor without tolls,” Bowley adds.
According to the pilot program, the burden is on the state to prove the roadway cannot be improved without tolls and that 100 percent of the toll revenue will remain with the roadway.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation is in the midst of a series of public hearings on the I-95 Corridor Study. The study recommends rebuilding the state’s 182-mile portion of I-95 from the Virginia border to the South Carolina border using tolls.
OOIDA leadership is encouraging truckers to attend the two remaining hearings, which take place from 4 to 7 p.m. as follows:
Thursday, Feb. 23, at the Dunn Community Center, 205 Jackson Road, Dunn, NC 28334
Monday, Feb. 27, at Double Tree By Hilton Hotel, 1965 Cedar Creek Road, Fayetteville, NC 28312
An NCDOT spokeswoman says the state is taking steps to obtain final approval including environmental reviews. The Federal Highway Administration has asked the state to indicate possible tolling locations and submit a review of how tolls would affect local, regional and interstate traffic.
Bowley says that’s where truckers and others can apply pressure.
The U.S. Senate is currently considering a long-term highway bill. An amendment in that bill, filed by Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-TX, would rein in the ability for states to implement tolls on federal highways. The Hutchison amendment would reduce the Federal Highway Administration’s pilot program from three states to two.
The feds have eyed the I-95 corridor as a possible toll route for years, designating it under the Corridors of the Future program in the mid-2000s. Virginia had eyes on I-81 as a toll road during the Bush administration, but switched its focus to I-95 in recent years under the Obama administration.
“There was a lot of talk about how Virginia was going to set up a toll booth at the North Carolina border. Now you’ve got North Carolina essentially doing the same thing,” Bowley says.
Allowing states to toll interstates has helped fuel neglect on busy routes, Bowley points out.
“Tolls are giving DOTs cover for decades of mismanagement,” Bowley says. “Everybody agrees that the Interstate Highway System is critical, yet the commitment to make the investment to maintaining and improving that system is lacking outside of the argument for tolls. They let it go bad and say this is the only way they can do this.”
Bowley further points out that truckers are already taxed for every mile they travel and account for approximately 36 percent of the revenue in the federal Highway Trust Fund.