State transportation board to study possible tolls for I-81

ROANOKE, Va. (WDBJ7) - It's possible some drivers on Interstate 81 may have to pay tolls.

That's one option state leaders are considering to help pay for eventual upgrades to the busy highway.

According to transportation officials, I-81 is one of the top eight trucking routes in the country. But it was not designed to handle the truck traffic it now sees on a daily basis, and according to some state officials, it is becoming more and more dangerous.

Prompted by Senate Bill 971, the Commonwealth Transportation Board will create a to-do list outlining the most pressing needs of the 325 mile-long road.

Not only that, but the board has been asked to figure out how to pay for it all, which could include tolls.The bill explicitly advises against tolling everyone but could open up the possibility of tolls on heavy commercial vehicles. And that could add up when more than 48-thousand vehicles travel I-81 every day.

Many drivers along the interstate agree there are issues. At the Ironto Truck stop, Paul Mason is taking a break.

"Going from New Orleans, Louisiana to Springfield, Massachusetts," he said from the front seat of his car.

He's got the open road ahead and as an ex-trucker he said he knows the challenge of navigating I-81.

"Because they [drivers] refuse to get out of the left hand lane. They look at the sign that says, 'left hand passing only,'" he said. "...Maybe they didn't graduate I don't know!"

He's not the only one frustrated behind the wheel.

"I've been hit by a heavy truck and been involved in an interstate accident where I could have easily been killed," said Senator Mark Obenshain, a Republican from Harrisonburg.

He co-sponsored the bill that's prompted the six month study which will begin next month and last until the end of November.

"It's becoming a life or death situation," he said of the interstate. "When in northern Virginia there are problems, it might be a fender bender. Down here when there's a problem, someone's dying a fiery death or traffic is backed up for six hours. It is a critical need."

A need that could call for tolls.
Obenshain says he knows it's a burden but that shouldering some of the costs could allow for access to bigger pots of money.

"It is gonna allow us to tap some of those federal dollars that are so important to what maintaining and improving this federal transportation corridor," he said.

You can read more about the bill and the study by clicking the link attached to this article.