Low gas prices leading to transportation funding woes in Virginia

Mark Tenia, January 4, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Drivers are paying a higher toll on the Pocahontas parkway. Starting Monday, it costs $4 for two-axle vehicles, but higher tolls could become a more widespread problem for drivers as the state faces transportation funding shortfalls.

Back in 2013, the state changed the way it collected taxes for gasoline purchases moving from taxing cents per gallon to a wholesale tax on gas. It was part of solution to pay for the state’s transportation budget, but there’s one big problem.

“With the price of gas going down, that now tells us that over the next five years, we’re going to be about $900 million less coming in than what we had projected,” said Delegate John O’Bannon, a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

O’Bannon says Virginia has the third largest transportation system in the country, and it’s only going to get bigger.

“We still can’t build all the roads everybody wants or needs,” said O’Bannon.

Some potential solutions include raising existing tolls, creating tolls in northern Virginia or raising taxes to pay for roads. But with any option involving a toll, lawmakers say there will be a free alternative.

“People want more but they don’t want to pay for it,” said O’Bannon.

But the idea of paying higher tolls is taking a toll on some drivers.

“It’s kind of bothersome, especially for people that have to travel back forth very frequently, especially at Pocahontas,” said driver Jason Lacy.

Lacy says he agrees roads need to be maintained and fixed but isn’t for paying higher taxes or tolls.

“I also think that raising tolls is a problem because it’s not something that you’re going to have to pay yearly, it’s something that you’re going to have to pay daily,” said Lacy.

“For the folks that ride it, I’m sorry, you still have a choice, you can take the long way or you can take the fast way,” said O’Bannon.

O’Bannon says the situation could improve depending on gas prices and the efficiency with which current transportation projects are completed.

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