WINCHESTER — Dixon Whitworth, a member of the state Commonwealth Transportation Board, says he’s open to whatever measures will pass the General Assembly to pay for more than $2 billion worth of work on Interstate 81.
Dixon said he supported tolls as a means of raising money, but he will move forward with an open mind.
“As far as I’m concerned, we’re starting all over again,” Whitworth said Friday. “I’m willing to negotiate and consider other sources if that will get the funding.”
A bill introduced during the legislative session that recently ended would have authorized the Commonwealth Transportation Board to create a tolling system along the interstate to pay for the $2.2 billion of roadwork outlined in the I-81 Corridor Improvement Plan.
The proposed work includes widening I-81, which runs 325 miles in Virginia, by one lane northbound and southbound between exits 313 (Millwood Pike) and 317 (Martinsburg Pike) in Frederick County.
Tolls were supported by Shenandoah Valley representatives and Gov. Ralph Northam as the best way to pay for the roadwork, as opposed to a regional gas tax. But the proposal was ultimately rejected by the legislature.
“We didn’t have a lot of definitive answers to specific questions,” Del. Chris Collins, R-Frederick County, said Friday of the reason the bill failed.
For example, some people wanted to know how much would it cost to travel from Winchester to Roanoke. And there were also significant concerns from citizens about the fairness of the tolling proposal, he said. “Are people paying their fair share or are people being targeted?”
The General Assembly authorized the creation of a commission, made up of representatives from regional citizens groups and planning districts, that would establish a plan detailing exactly how the project will be funded.
Whitworth, a resident of Winchester, is the VCTB member representing the Staunton District, which covers the Shenandoah Valley north of Lexington. He said he’s been told he will be on the commission as one of three board members representing part of the I-81 corridor.
“I am hopeful,” Whitworth said of devising a funding plan to pass next year’s legislative session. The plan may end up being a “hybrid,” containing multiple sources of funding, he said. “Whatever it takes to get a consensus... I’m going to be in favor of it.”