- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 27, 2010

RICHMOND, Va. | As Virginia attempts to levy tolls on Interstate 95 at the North Carolina line, North Carolina is studying whether to do the same thing south of the border, Gov. Bob McDonnell said Thursday.

McDonnell said on his monthly radio program WRVA in Richmond and the Virginia News Network that he still backs the idea of tolling inbound lanes of I-95 at Virginia’s southern boundary.

North Carolina is conducting a two-year study into the needs of the 182-mile stretch of I-95 between the Virginia and South Carolina lines, and how to pay for them.

McDonnell proposed tolling northbound lanes of that interstate highway and I-85 where they enter Virginia from North Carolina starting last year when he was running for governor. It was part of a transportation package that included greater use of debt, tolling and user fees on those who travel new or improved roads, and the use of general funds from core state services to blacktop.

On the radio Thursday, McDonnell repeated his refusal Thursday to consider a general increase in state taxes, particularly gasoline taxes.

Tolling existing interstates, in either state, solely as a revenue source would require federal approval. McDonnell says the tolling on I-95 is permissible because it is tied to improvements along the heavily traveled route itself. He also cited the related expansion through a public-private partnership of U.S. 460 into a divided, multilane, limited-access pipeline directly to Virginia’s most popular warm-weather tourism venue — its Atlantic beaches, the Hampton Roads and access to the northern Outer Banks of North Carolina.

“Interstate 95, that is the Main Street of America and we’ve got a lot of areas on that road that are not safe right now, particularly between Petersburg and north to Richmond, and we need improvements on that road,” McDonnell said.

“It would go a long way toward providing the hundreds of millions (of dollars) needed for road improvement. It’s a pay-as-you-go system. I think that it’s fair,” said McDonnell, who took office in January.

He noted that most states along the Atlantic from Maryland north have some form of tolling.

There is some opposition to the tolls in Southside Virginia communities where residents use the interstate routinely to travel into and out of North Carolina.

McDonnell was asked if he had discussed the tolling issue with North Carolina Gov. Beverly Perdue.

“I talked to her,” he said. “They’re looking at a toll, too.”

North Carolina is in the midst of a two-year effort to identify the most-needed upgrades, rank them by priority and pay for them.

“Tolling is among the options under consideration,” North Carolina Transportation Secretary Gene Conti wrote in a May 11 statement. “The study considers tolling at both borders and points between, and will take into consideration through-state traffic, as well as local-only usage.”

On another issue, McDonnell said his administration is discussing expanding the role of inmate labor to maintain to the state’s Interstate rest stops.

With highway maintenance funds spread so thin that the Virginia Department of Transportation is welcoming volunteers to mow medians along highways, McDonnell said prison labor presents a savings opportunity. Many of the rest stops for nine months last year and early this year were shuttered as a budget measure before McDonnell ordered them reopened shortly after taking office.

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