I-81 plan could produce $87 truck toll

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Virginia officials are evaluating two plans to improve Interstate 81 – one of which would raise truck tolls to 27.4 cents per mile. Last year, legislators approved a measure permitting tolls on trucks only using the Interstate. Similar legislation would have to be approved to charge cars tolls.

Under a proposal by Star Solutions, trucks would initially be charged 10 cents per mile, then 12 cents per mile when the interim toll road is instituted in 2006, and 21 cents per mile when each phase is complete. The toll would reach 27.4 cents per mile in 2009 on trucks that travel the section of I-81 completed in the first phase. The interim toll would remain on other segments until improvements are complete.

That means trucks would pay $87 one way to drive the 325-mile road through Virginia, says Jay Smith, a spokesman for Smart Solutions, a 125-member coalition of business and organizations, including American Trucking Associations, working to better the road.

The $6.25 billion Star plan would build two trucks-only lanes in each direction on the inside of current lanes, separated from non-truck traffic by concrete barriers. It would require federal and state funding.

A $1.84 billion plan from Fluor Virginia outlines building a third lane in both directions for passenger vehicles only and restricting trucks to the middle and right lanes. It would not require public funds.

The Fluor concept would pay for the road through three toll plazas that would charge cars an average of $3 and trucks $10, with options that include fare discounts on through-traffic trips. Both plans recommend refurbishing rail lines to divert some commercial truck freight to trains.

Smart Solutions believes the Fluor plan is more fair. “They’ve shown a willingness to work with the trucking industries,” Smith said.

On March 19, VDOT Commissioner Philip Shucet is expected to recommend that the Commonwealth Transportation Board move one or both proposals to a detailed review. If the board approves, a public comment period of two months will be set. A second detailed review stage would follow.

A review panel will pick one or both plans for negotiations July 11. The VDOT has Sept. 30 as its target date for completing negotiations.