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EDITORIAL: Taking Virginia taxpayers for a ride

Obama administration approves multimillion-dollar tax hike on drivers

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The freedom of the open road could soon be a thing of the past for Virginia motorists. Big-government bureaucrats of all political stripes yearn to return to the days when toll barriers were used to shake down anyone using main thoroughfares. They've been upset ever since President Eisenhower's system of gas-tax-funded freeways spurred commerce, industry and travel across the country. On Friday, the Obama administration gave the green light to turn back the clock.

Republican Gov. Robert F. McDonnell received preliminary federal approval to hit people in the wallet as they pass over the North Carolina border on Interstate 95. Tolls of around $2 per axle will be levied at several points all the way up to Fredericksburg, where the planned High Occupancy Toll (HOT) charges will take over. The ultimate goal is to make all free lanes disappear, according to the Virginia Department of Transportation tolling application, which stated, "VDOT believes that the ability to extend [tolls] past mile post 126 would be beneficial in the future."

With HOT lanes on the Beltway, and additional plans to toll I-66, taxpayers won't be able to move anywhere in Northern Virginia without being nickeled-and-dimed. The I-95 plan would fatten Richmond's coffers to the tune of at least $50 million per year, although the agency admits, "Toll-rate increases have not been included in the analysis."

The Dulles Toll Road is a perfect example of how that works out. This major commuter route will see the price of a round trip rise to $17 over the next five years, and to $34 by 2040. That huge expense doesn't go to fund any road improvements. Instead, it foots the bill for the $6 billion Metrorail to Dulles International Airport. These outrageous rates are set by the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, an unconstitutional body that doesn't answer to the residents of Northern Virginia.

Tolling advocates insist there is no other way to fund improvements to I-95 because the state is broke. Perhaps that has something to do with blowing $6 billion on an airport trolley. What's really happening is that the General Assembly has outsourced the politically unpopular duty of revenue raising to unaccountable agencies and foreign corporations. It's a thinly disguised tax hike that used to be the sort of thing one expected from Democrats.

In 2003, the Federal Highway Administration granted the request of then-Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, to force drivers to toss coins into the government basket when driving on I-81. Fortunately, widespread public opposition forced the legislature to pass a law blocking the deal. Lawmakers need to do the same with the current Republican governor's plan.

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