Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell yesterday announced that the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has granted the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) preliminary approval for his administration's plan to toll I-95 under the Interstate Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program. In a Sept. 14 letter, FHWA Administrator Victor Mendez granted the conditional provisional approval and outlined steps required to move forward.
Speaking about yesterday's announcement, McDonnell said, "I-95 is one of the most important and heavily traveled highway corridors in the country, linking population and commercial centers up and down the East Coast. Limited funds and growing capital and maintenance needs have led to deficient pavements and structures, congestion, higher crash density and safety concerns. This approval is a major step toward funding critical capacity and infrastructure improvements needed in this corridor. The commonwealth cannot continue to be a leader in economic development and job creation if we do not address our transportation needs. Earlier this year, the General Assembly passed my transportation plan setting the framework for investing $4 billion in our transportation network over the next three years. The ability to toll I-95 will help leverage this investment by funding transportation improvements in this vital corridor."
At McDonnell's request, Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton submitted Virginia's proposal to FHWA outlining a concept to toll I-95 in April 2010, and VDOT submitted a formal expression of interest in January 2011. Preliminarily, VDOT estimates it could generate $250 million over the first five years of the toll program and over $50 million annually thereafter. These toll revenues will help fund capacity expansion, operational improvements, safety improvements and pavement and structure reconstruction and rehabilitation throughout the corridor.
Examples of specific projects that could be funded through toll revenues include widening I-95 between I-295 and the North Carolina border, enhancing intelligent transportation systems and installing over-height detectors on bridges, shoulder widening and the installation of guardrails and improving pavements on more than 700 lane-miles within the corridor.
"The entire I-95 corridor averages a level of service of D and some more urban portions are F during peak periods," said Connaughton. "This level of service is unacceptable anywhere, let alone on the most traveled corridor in Virginia. The ability to implement tolling will provide the revenues necessary to improve I-95."
Mendez's letter outlined important steps to be taken by VDOT before full approval is granted. By granting VDOT conditional provisional approval, the U.S. DOT is reserving a slot in the Interstate Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program. This reservation will allow VDOT to undertake necessary studies. The Interstate Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program is a federal demonstration program that provides authority for only three states to toll interstate facilities. Once the statutory provisions of the program are satisfied, the opportunity for tolling will be available.
"VDOT will work closely with FHWA to complete the steps outline by Administrator Mendez, as well as any necessary environmental documents," said VDOT Commissioner Greg Whirley. "Our goal is to complete these steps as quickly as possible so we can develop and implement a satisfactory toll agreement with the FHWA."
As part of this approval, VDOT's conditional provisional approval to toll I-81 will be rescinded, and I-95 will become one of three projects under the Interstate Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program.