Proposed bill to add tolls to Interstate 81 has some truck drivers, truck companies concerned

By Alison Wickline - Reporter

Thousands of vehicles travel Interstate 81 each day. In the last 20 years, traffic has more than doubled. Now, a state senator from Rockingham County is joining forces with a state senator from Grayson County to consider adding a moneymaker to the roadway.

Almost half of statewide truck traffic runs along this interstate and about a fifth of crashes involve a heavy truck. The senators are hoping to gain steam in Richmond for a study on interstate tolls.

Roger Bartley is taking a break from truck driving on Interstate 81. He is one of many drivers who travel that stretch of road for work. He says tolls on I-81 will push tractor-trailers onto back roads -- a dangerous possibility. 

"You would have a whole lot of guys like me that don't run the toll roads because it's so expensive. That would put us back on the old roads," said Bartley.

State Sens. Mark Obenshain and Bill Carrico filed a bill directing the Commonwealth Transportation Board to take a look at the feasibility of truck tolls along Interstate 81 that would generate money for road projects in the corridor. 

According to the Virginia Department of Transportation, up to 40 percent of 81's traffic is big rigs. While the interstate is only designed to carry 15 percent trucks. The senators have said the tolls could not only create revenue but put the brakes on the truck traffic. 

Obenshain said "I believe that a willingness to explore innovative and unconventional funding sources can be part of a bipartisan solution to the problems faced by those who travel interstate 81 every day."

Walter Grigg with Lawrence Companies disagrees. 

"Local transportation companies in this affected area would immediately feel the burden of the tolls. We have to cover it because the tolls become instant," said Grigg, vice president of business intelligence.

Grigg said adding tolls to an already tricky interstate could create more problems than it would solve.

"Independent of needing the 81 corridor improved, southwest Virginia also needs manufacturing, distribution and everything else to come in, but when the price of transportation is artificially increased by a toll, you start to discriminate against those opportunities," said Grigg.

About the study, Carrico  said "We need to focus our efforts and money on improving I-81. It has been overlooked for too long." 

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