By Peter Galuszka

Virginia’s “no tax” governor is on his way to sticking the state’s motorists with a tax by another name.

Robert F. McDonnell has won preliminary federal approval to stick drivers with a toll of from $2 to $4 on parts of Interstate 95 supposedly to help the cash-starved state fund “safety” improvements. The last time Virginia had a toll on I-95 was in 1992 when they were finally ended between Richmond and Petersburg.

A few problems with his plan. First, it is hugely out of character for a Republican governor with national ambitions who tries to keep in vogue with the “no tax” mantra of his GOP colleagues. A toll is a tax.

Second problem: McDonnell is most likely to place the tax on parts of I-95 that are the least traveled. Toll booths could be stuck at the North Carolina border and then again at Massaponax just south of Fredericksburg. Daily volumes  are 40,000 vehicles a day around the Ta Heel line and about 145,000 a day near Fredericksburg.

Road use is much higher in the D.C. area, namely 215,000 cars a day at the Springfield interchange in Northern Virginia. So if you are really going to stick it to the motorists and rack up some cash, why not put the tolls where there are the most cars?

The answer is that McDonnell doesn’t have the guts to annoy Northern Virginia drivers. My guess is that this is the advice that Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton, McDonnell’s in-house Cardinal Richelieu, gave him. If you want your tolls put them where the people with the least political clout have to endure them, namely, the folks who live in the rural, less affluent areas of Southside.

Plus, Yankees, ahem Northerners, running their vans up and down 95 to see grandma in Florida or go to Disney World don’t vote in Virginia and are used to paying tolls on the New Jersey Turnpike. Don’t even bother to think about the North Carolinians. Years ago, being from the Tar Heel state could bring a jail sentence in a Richmond court.

The McDonnell interstate tax would generate a mere $30 million to $60 million a year. That’s pin money when the state’s transportation needs are $20 billion.

This troubling news comes just as federal cutbacks could kill the highly-successful Amtrak train from Lynchburg to Washington passenger train. In fact, 60 percent of Amtrak service in the state would end.

Meanwhile, let’s hope McDonnell’s toll idea goes the way of his plans to privatize liquor stores and drill for offshore oil.

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23 responses to “Back to the Future”

  1. well NoVa is going to get HOT LANEs on I-95 within the next few years.

    the original proposal was to have HOT tolls from NoVa to Massaponax but that was scaled back to North Stafford.

    With this proposal – I’d say there is a good chance that we’re going to see tolls from North Stafford to Richmond… and … a discussion as to whether or not they should be HOT or non-HOT tolling.

    but I’m with Peter on the hypocrisy of the Republicans/Conservatives who have always maintained that we don’t have a revenue problem, we have a waste and abuse problem in VDOT – remember the “lost funds”?

    they found all these “lost funds’ and what was the ultimate result?

    well they put more taxes on insurance and promptly borrowed to the hilt on that new tax increase.

    and now they are pursuing more taxes (call them what you wish) which means if you take them at their word – that they too are tax&spenders… and have failed at their assertion that we have enough money…it’s just not spent wisely.

    at least credit the Dems and Deeds with being HONEST about the need for transportation funds… and credit the Republicans with their usual hypocrisy.

  2. Peter:

    What are you talking about? We pay 75 cent tolls on the Dulles Toll Rd despite the promise that the tolls would be dropped once the bonds used to build the road were paid off.

    The only expansion of the Beltway and I-95 has come as part of an El Lamo public – private partnership where people in NoVa will have to pay up to $5/Mi to drive on reasonable roads.

    Now, the mindless “We ‘Taint Payin’ Fer No Nover Roads” mentality that has screwed the state’s gas tax collections is coming to RoVa.

    And what do I hear?

    A triumph for “user pays”? Hardly. Just the usual Boo Hoo Hoo from the RoVa crowd.

    Good for McDonnell.

    USER pays, not Northern Virginia USERS ONLY pay.


    I am really starting to like McDonnell. He puts the back of his hand across the faces of the no progress crowd and then decides that EVERYBODY who drives in a state with an idiotic gas tax philosophy needs to make up for that shambolic pean to pseudo-Conservative BS.

  3. “With this proposal – I’d say there is a good chance that we’re going to see tolls from North Stafford to Richmond… and … a discussion as to whether or not they should be HOT or non-HOT tolling.”.


    There should be tolls everywhere. In Fredricksburg, on 295 around Richmond, on I-64, on I-81 on I-460.

    User pays means all users pay.


  4. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    My Dear Mr. Groveton,
    These TAXES are of a regressive nature that will hit the poorest people hardest. They are like the food tax of yesteryear. And, poor people do not have many alternatives to I-95. Maybe U.S. 301 or U.S. 1 but that means they have to go through every small burg there is. So, the poor will have to get up earlier to get to work and get home later.
    Is that what you Cato-types really want? Shame on you!

    Peter G.

  5. Ahhh Mr Gooze:

    Presumably your copy of the Constitution calls for equality of outcome rather than equal of opportunity.

    If you can’t afford a Mercedes, buy a Chevy. If you can’t afford the tolls, take the bus.

    Life is regressive.

    Of course I have waged a lonely battle against Mr Bacon, TMT and others. I have maintained that it is OK to use high toll road revenues to subsidize mass transit – in the form of Rail to Dulles. You see, I believe that the mass transit option is necessary so that those who can’t afford the tolls still have a way to travel.

    I am also happy to have a regional authority (MWAA) making decisions for NoVa rather than the airheads in the General Assembly.

    They a rep unelected, you say? Well, I’ve seen the level of support my neighbors and I have gotten from our elected representatives. I think it’s time to let a few unelected people have a chance.

  6. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    My Dear Mr. Groveton,
    You are giving a very bad analogy. Buying a car such as a Chevy or a Mercedes is NOT the same as having equal access to public highways that everyone has paid for with their tax money.
    Nor is the same of HOT lanes where you pay extra if you want to use the roads at congested times and it’s just you.
    I-95 was NOT the same set up as say, the Penna. or New Jersey Turnpike that presumably still need to pay off their bonds. McDonnell is trying to put up tolls not for essentials but stuff like electronic signs.
    I realize that setting up “usage” fees which are really taxes in disguise is the favorite dream of every Cato-loving conservative. But it is, at the end of the day, an unfair, regressive tax.

  7. funny… I could SWEAR than Groveton was violently opposed to tolls at some point in the past… for the same reasons that Peter is…

    FYI – roads are never “paid” for. You pay for construction but then you have maintenance and operations…

    it would be like saying once you pay off your mortgage that your house is “paid” for. ha hahahahahhahah

  8. I have come to the conclusion that the General Assembly is so inept that optimal plans are impossible. In an optimal world, people would be charged road taxes based on the number of miles they drive and, possibly, where those miles are driven. This is easily and affordably possible with today’s technology.

    Barring that, the gas tax should be raised. Peter howls about the regressiveness of tolls but seems to forget that the gas tax is fixed in cents per gallon regardless of the income of the person purchasing the gas. At least with tolls you usually have an option of using secondary roads. The gas tax is, therefore, more regressive than tolls.

    Let’s stop and do a mid-rant summary. The General Assembly lacks the institutional intellect to even consider a “total miles driven” approach. The General Assembly lack the institutional courage required to raise the gas tax despite it being cut in half by inflation over the last 25 years.

    You see, this is the problem when dealing with nit-wits. The good options have to be thrown out in recognition of their nit wittedness.

    That leaves the possibility of a scattering of tolls. Since the members of the General Assembly have driven their vehicles through toll plazas they have the intellectual capacity to understand tolls. Since tolls can arguably be declared “not taxes” the use of tolls doesn’t require the jellyfish we send to Richmond to calcify spines.

    It’s a poor answer but the best we’re going to get from the Clown Show.

    As for paying for roads vs maintaining them … let’s discuss the Dulles Toll Rd. The promise made to commuters when that road was built was that the tolls would be used to pay off the bonds required to construct the roads. After that, maintenance of the road would come from the state transportation fund. You know LarryG – just like the maintenance for ALL the roads in Fredricksburg. That was the promise made by representatives of the General Assembly to the citizens of Northern Virginia. Yet, out of the mouths of clowns oft times come lies. The bonds are paid and the tolls have been raised not lowered or eliminated.

    What can we learn from this? The General Assembly is untrustworthy? That much is obvious. Things would work better if Richmond just got out of the damn way? Yes, I’d say that’s a fair statement too.

  9. I may have been remiss in my comments criticizing Jim Bacon’s anti-progress missives and Peter’s “nothing is ever fair enough to do” diatribe.

    The issue facing Virginia is the attraction and retention of taxpayers who pay more in taxes than they consume in state and local services. While this issue faces all states, it is particularly acute in Virginia since we may reasonably expect that federal spending will decrease in coming years. That decrease will directly and negatively impact Virginia since Virginia is a large beneficiary of federal spending.

    This problem is not hard to see coming.

    What seems to be hard is pushing the strident liberals and strident conservatives off their self-destructive ideological perches.

    Jim Bacon opposes all progress. Well, I take that back. He opposes progress in Charlottesville and Northern Virginia. Perhaps he would find progress in Richmond just fine and dandy. Who knows?

    Mr. Bacon’s obstructionism will cause Virginia’s already chaotic transportation crisis to worsen. This is THE major quality of life problem cited by surplus taxpayers when asked about their interest in remaining in Virginia. Yet Mr. Bacon’s political ideology trumps his home state’s need to build a better transportation system in order to attract and retain surplus taxpayers. One can only imagine that Mr. Bacon missed his calling when he failed to get elected to the Detroit City Council in the 1970s.

    Mr. Galuszka is different but no better. He will stymie any progress which does not increase the level of socialism in Virginia. Presumably, Mr. Galuszka adheres to Rahm Emmanuel’s dictate to, “Never waste a crisis”. Tolls are less regressive than the gas tax but Peter objects to tolls because they are regressive. It is unfair to ask people to pay to drive on the roads although the gas tax does exactly that. While Peter has not proffered an alternative, one assumes he would like to see all state taxes based on a graduated income tax.

    Between Bacon and Galuszka there can be no progress. Virginia is circling a very visible drain while Jim and Peter find something they don’t like about any and all change required to avoid the economic sewer.

    How very Virginia of both.

  10. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Mr Dear Mr. Groveton,
    I am truly flattered that you think I have so much influence. I am sorry that you think my “socialist” tendencies obstruct what you consider “progress” in Virginia but I do take offense at being called “Virginian.” I am NOT a Virginian. Live here by chance.
    As far as your argument about regressive taxes masquerading as tolls, you make on fatal logical slip. You say that tolls and gasoline taxes are fair and necessary. But we are talking about adding tolls where none existed or existed to pay for a 15 or so mile strip between Petersburg and Richmond.
    While the current administration hasn’t said where the toll booths would go, one plan is to put them in some of the poorest, most recession-hit parts of the state. You are adding a toll here where it didn’t exist IN ADDITION to the gas tax which is ridiculously low by national average. Why should this be permitted? Because conservative think tanks think taxes disguised as “user fees” are the way to go? Perhaps there will be a time when user fees would be placed on all cars electronically but that opens a host of privacy issues. Why is it so critical that we tax Emporians now? Why not put the tolls at the Mixing Bowl? Why not at the end of the driveway of the Groveton homestead?
    One reason years ago for toll roads in Virginia by the way was graft. Virginia Beach used to have one. Why? One versions says that back in the 1950s, the corrupt old Princess Anne County machine wanted to hand out contracts to their construction firm cronies and they didn’t any federal funds or highway inspectors around. Could that be way Interstate 64 stopped some miles from its logical conclusion at the Atlantic Ocean.


    Peter G.

    PS: Everything you say about Jim Bacon is absolutely true. The man is against progress.

  11. not to excuse Richmond – but the vast majority of States have the same problems as Virginia with the gas tax – and more and more states are looking more and more at tolls….

    I favor tolls because it’s harder to divert money without the public knowing that you are – with tolls.

    everybody and their dog know what MWAA is planning on doing with DTR tolls. and they know that unlike their elected representatives that MWAA is immune from reprisals form taxpayers and toll payers… but at least we know.

    with the gas tax – it disappears into the bowels of Richmond to emerge later as smelly sausage doled out to the politically-connected …

    some folks cheer the money for Charlottesville – but where did it come from?

    did it comes from voters in Charlottesville and Arbemarle or did it come from the ClownShow sausage machine?

    “progress” to me is when the voters of a locality or region decide they are going to pay for the transportation improvements they want and not expect the money to come from the sausage machine.

  12. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Groveton, Bacon LGross, et al. This movie clip says it all:

  13. that was the FUNNIEST movie… very weird but very funny…

    and I suspect quite strongly that the first time that Hydra pulls up to one of the new toll gates in NoVa he will surely utter “horse manure” probably accompanied with Blazin Saddle sound effects.

  14. but I do wonder if Groveton is okay with tolling NoVa….as an answer to the anti-progress crowd.

  15. I see the high-tax state of Maryland has just raised its tolls.

  16. I am fine with tolls as long as they are used state-wide.

    Peter’s argument about rich poor parts of the state fails. As I have mentioned many times, there are more people living below the poverty line in Fairfax County than there are people in 80 Virginia jurisdictions. Parts of states don’t pay tolls, people pay tolls.

    Beyond that, we need to de-populate some parts of the state. Many of the jobs that have been lost in manufacturing won’t be coming back. The answer is not to shovel the state’s precious money to places which are permanently underwater, it is to encourage the people living there to move to parts of the state which have a good economic future.

    On the one hand, I feel sorry for people living in places where the jobs have gone away. On the other hand, moving a couple of hundred miles within a single state isn’t exactly a suicide mission.

    Continuing to subsidize places where there are too few jobs to support the population is not only futile, it is harmful. It is futile because the subsidies don’t being new employment so the problem remains. It is harmful because those subsidies could be used to build out places which have economic potential.

  17. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    G. Groovey,
    You are beyond crazy. Greensville County, where one of the two toll booths would be located, has a median household income of $47,600. In Fairfax, the median family income is $102,400.

    There are all of 10,553 people in Greensville. Fairfax has over 1 million people.

    Fairfax is the No. 2 highest income of any local jurisdiction in the U.S. No. 1 is neighboring Loudoun County.

    So what if it has large number of people with lower income.

    As far as the line about it’s too bad that people might have to move away if their jobs go away. They can always move — total bullshit. Who are you? Stalin? Are you advocating mass relocations, sort of like the Crimean Tatars to Kazakhstan? Not only are you touting a taxes, you sound like a brutal socialist!

    What were you smoking up in Boston? Groveton?

  18. re: ” As far as the line about it’s too bad that people might have to move away if their jobs go away. They can always move — total bullshit. Who are you? Stalin? Are you advocating mass relocations, sort of like the Crimean Tatars to Kazakhstan? Not only are you touting a taxes, you sound like a brutal socialist!”

    Groveton is hopelessly confused on this. This is the very reason why you want kids in those areas to get excellent educations so THEY.. CAN move to find a job which is a lot more practical and feasible than expecting adults with poor educations to move. Putting more people in Fairfax who can only qualify for manual labor jobs that won’t earn them enough money for a place to live is “clown-show” rationale…

  19. Peter, you are off on this one. Lead story in today’s WaPo about the major drop in average incomes in the Washington Metro. Part of the cause is large numbers of immigrants, presumably both legal and illegal, that are not making much money. I went to Back to School night at my son’s high school this evening. We were informed that 25% of Fairfax County Public School students were from families living at or below the poverty level. There are more poor people in Fairfax County than in any other locality in the Commonwealth.

  20. TMT is right. The mythology of Peter and LarryG might be worthy of a fictional writing award but really stretches the definition of political commentary.

    LarryG doesn’t think that people can move from southern Virginia to northern Virginia and find jobs. He thinks they’re too stupid. It’s the same thing that people used to say about poor African Americans who moved from south to north in the great migration. Where were these generally undereducated people going to get jobs in Detroit? Ahhhhh … Ford? Chevy? Then, LarryG insists that the people who move here won’t be able to afford to live here. I’ve posted dozens of listings of affordable real estate in Fairfax County on this blog. I grew up in affordable housing in Fairfax County. There are plenty of affordable options. There are no cheap four bedroom houses on half acre lots. To live that yuppie fantasy on a budget one has to move to Fredricksburg and commute. Then LarryG says if we just fund the schools the kids will grow up and leave. Virginia has been doing the school funding money swipe since Doug Wilder was governor. In other words, for at least 21 years. Have the kids all gotten good educations and left? How many more decades for this failed plan of yours, LarryG?

    Liberals never let facts muddy the water.

    Despite LarryG’s illogic he comes across like Leonard Nimoy from the old Star Trek episodes compared to Peter. Peter just can’t understand that tolls which are regressive to poor people in southern Virginia would also be regressive to poor people in Northern Virginia. He cites median income statistics. Hey Peter – here’s a news flash … people making the median income aren’t poor in Greensville County or Fairfax County. TMT tries, once again, to bring facts into the discussion. However, facts are to liberals what pollen is to hayfever sufferers – something that causes an allergic reaction.

    Peter caps his walkabout in the Looney Tunes world of his argument by claiming that people moving a few hundred miles within their own state for better economic opportunities is akin to a Stalinist relocation plan. No Peter, it’s akin to people getting off their asses and doing something to better their economic situation. I think it’s called self-reliance. You hear a lot about it in the words of country music songs.

  21. Interesting debate, but much of it is irrelevant. No one is proposing tolls for Northern Virginia under McDonnell’s new tolling plan because Northern Virginia is already slated for loads of HOT lane tolls on I-495 and I-95. The new I-95 tolls would be placed between Fredericksburg and points south for the purpose of funding projects south of Fredericksburg. Although McDonnell’s original proposal would have put a toll booth at the N.C. state line (admittedly, a bad idea), the FHWA said that any toll money collected had to be spent in the same area where it was collected. That means that the people of Emporia will not get hosed.

    The bigger, more interesting question is whether Virginia’s urban areas should continue subsidizing Virginia’s rural areas or whether rural Virginians should relocate to regions with better job prospects. In that regard, Peter’s comparison with Stalin is ludicrous. Stalin forcefully repatriated millions of citizens. Under Groveton’s plan, no one would be forced to move anywhere. Any migration would be purely voluntary. Now, if Peter wants to equate the cessation of rural subsidies with indiscriminate repatriation of entire populations at the point of a gun… well, there’s probably not a lot more that can be said.

    In Peter’s defense, I will say this: The Blazing Saddles video was pretty funny.

  22. Peter Galuszka Avatar
    Peter Galuszka

    Of course the reference to STalin is ludicrous. I am exaggerating tomake a point. Equally ludicrous is my suggestion to put toll booths and the end of Groveton’s driveway, but it’s still a pretty cool idea.
    Not so ludicrous but scary is talk from you and Groveton to encourage, force, or whatever people to move from their rural homes. Can’t people choose where they want to live.? If they want to pack up and move, that’s their choice. That was what the settling by European-ancestry types of the West was all about. Ditto all immigrants. Ditto blacks moving north. I fail to see how mighty Fairfax is going “broke “subsidizing” Greensville County with all of 10,000 people.


  23. My driveway terminates on a private road owned by me and my neighbors. It would not surprise me to see the wealth redistributionist crowd want to toll me as I went from one part of my property to another.

    People have been moving from their rural homes to homes in urban and suburban locales for the last 100 years. This was good for America since the demand for labor was shrinking in rural areas while rising in urbanized areas. We are now left with a cadre of people who haven’t gotten the news that there is a very limited economic future in rural America.

    People should live wherever they want. But they should have a plan for becoming economically self-sustaining. That could involve a dramatic reduction in how much they spend in government support or an achievable plan to attract more employment.

    Subsidies for places which are temporarily suffering economic dislocation are fine. However, when that dislocation is permanent the subsidies need to end and the people need to either drastically tighten their belts or move. Just like Americans have done from the westward migration to the California gold rush to the great migration.

    If Fairfax County is going to subsidize anybody it should be the poor of Fairfax County. For one thing, the poor have a chance to prosper in a place with good employment opportunities. For another, the sooner the poor in Fairfax can become economically self-reliant, the sooner we can bring in more people who can also benefit from moving to aplace where jobs exist.

    10,000 people is hardly the problem. Virginia has millions of people living in locales which will never regain economic self-sufficiency.

    McDonnell’s interest in sporadic tolling is yet another attempt at subsidization. They fleece people in the areas where tolls are collected in order to subsidize people in the areas where tolls are not collected.

    My admiration for McDonnell is his willingness to fleece people outside of only Northern Virginia. Predictably, people like Peter have allergic reactions when the tolls start getting closer to home.

    No fun being fleeced to subsidize others, eh Peter?

    Put the tolls everywhere. Everyone in Virginia should have the opportunity to suffer at the hands of our incompetent General Assembly.

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