Gas Tax

Kasey Peacoe, of Winchester, puts gas in her vehicle at the Handy Mart on Valley Avenue at Tevis Street on Wednesday. State legislators approved raising the gas tax 2.1% along the Interstate 81 corridor to pay for improvements to the crash-plagued roadway.

WINCHESTER — State legislators on Wednesday approved raising gas taxes and other fees to pay for $2 billion in Interstate 81 improvements.

Del. Dave LaRock, R-Hamilton, Del. Chris Collins, R-Frederick County, and Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Upperville, voted against the measure. Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke County, voted in favor of it.

LaRock called the measure a “massive tax increase” that legislators had little time to review.

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam announced the proposal last week as part of an amended bill. The plan calls for a 2.1% increase in the gas tax along I-81’s 325-mile corridor in western Virginia. It also increases tractor-trailer registration fees (proportional to the weight of a vehicle) and imposes a 2.03% tax hike on diesel fuel and the rate of road tax (a quarterly surcharge on the diesel tax on trucks weighing more than 26,000 pounds).

According to the Associated Press, the plan will raise gas prices along the I-81 corridor by about 7 cents a gallon. Proponents say the extra money raised will pay for urgently needed upgrades to the highway to improve safety and traffic flow. I-81 is a major artery that is vital to the state’s economy and heavily trafficked by tractor-trailers.

While legislators agree I-81 needs improvements, how to fund them has been a source of debate. Earlier this year, a plan to implement tolls on the roadway failed to pass the General Assembly.

On Wednesday, legislators reconvened in Richmond for a veto session and to consider amended bills, including the I-81 measure.

Vogel voiced her displeasure at the outcome. “I have worked hard to support [money] for 81 and a mechanism everyone could embrace,” she said in a message on Wednesday. “I did not support these amendments.”

The plan legislators approved dedicates the greatest amount of funding to I-81, but projects on interstates 95 and 64 also would receive funding, as well as the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.

Gooditis said she supported the measure as a way to fund work on I-81 while also funding roads projects throughout the commonwealth.

“I am relieved and thankful that we can go forward with projects which are intended to save lives and boost economic development in the I-81 corridor,” Gooditis said in a message.

There are more than 2,000 crashes on the road each year, with more than a quarter involving heavy trucks, the AP reports. There are about 45 major crashes a year that take more than four hours to clear.

In Frederick County, the improvements call for widening I-81 by one lane between exits 313 (Millwood Pike) and 317 (Martinsburg Pike), northbound and southbound.

LaRock said a lack of language in the legislation dedicating the new funds specifically for I-81 improvements invites the state to “misuse” the money.

Collins said he opposes gas tax money going into the state’s general fund with nothing to guarantee that it will be spent on I-81.

“It’s not really an Interstate 81 funding bill,” Collins said, explaining that the measure contains language that allows funds raised from the regional gas tax increase to go to projects “related” to I-81.

The executive branch decides if a project is related to I-81, he said, so there’s nothing stopping money from being spent on “a bridge over the Potomac River.”

— Contact Onofrio Castiglia at ocastiglia@winchesterstar.com

(14) comments

Mullinska

When legislators along the I-81 corridor, mostly republican suggested a toll, people scoffed, now there is a gas tax and people complain, the money has to come from somewhere. No one will be happy with any of the funding options.

carlmi

I would mind the I-81 tax less if it was going to I-81. Given the large chunks earmarked for I-95, NoVa, and projects to name later (who needs a few palms greased) I am very unhappy.

Chupacabra

As I-81 spans multiple states, The Federal Government should be maintaining it, not leaving it up to individual states.

carlmi

Does it matter which level of government provides the money? It still comes from your pocket. A tax zone administered by the feds, the state or the county all tap the same source.

TonyR

Time to stop whining about paying for things that are needed. Also, time to stop the throwing around labels (liberal etc) that have nothing to do with the issue. I81 has needed serious work for over a decade and it has been ignored and/or hampered by self-destructive thinking. If you want something to rage about look at the Boeing contract for the space capsule. Two years late and $4 billion over budget - with no solution in sight - and no one seems to care.

BenWeber

This is a huge mistake on the part of our elected officials and will be a huge burden for those who travel east west.

Violet

Not a huge mistake at all. I-81 needs to be widened especially through Frederick County for safety reasons. This is long overdue and I don't mind paying a couple cents more per gallon for gas for it. I just hope the additional revenue will be used for I-81 and not other areas.

carlmi

The mistake is that much of the money raised from the taxes on the "I-81 corridor" are earmarked for other projects. The I-81 is simply there to help sell the con.

Clarke County Hokie

"Gooditis said she supported the measure as a way to fund work on I-81 while also funding roads projects throughout the commonwealth."

Throughout the commonwealth? Then why is the tax only being imposed on those of us along the I81 corridor? Another NoVa liberal trying to get over on those in the Valley. Move back over the mountain and stop giving Clarke County a bad name.

carlmi

All right, now we get to pay extra to help fix I-95, I-64 and projects in NoVa. Poor NoVa needs all the help it can get.

PT

Why not impose the tax on the other cooridors as well? Chris is right to be concerned. However, 81 is a death trap....it is too narrow and we need another lane. At least we have some movement in Richmond thanks to the Gov.

Chupacabra

The Governor in blackface? Don't make me laugh. He, Herring, and Fairfax should be GONE!

Violet

I-81 is absolutely a death trap and needs to be widened!

carlmi

The guv has just tapped the areas of the state that didn't vote for him to shift money to the areas that did and people are thanking him for that.

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