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Small trucking companies worry about the possibility of I-81 tolls

(WHSV)
Published: Apr. 19, 2018 at 7:50 AM EDT
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Lawmakers are searching for a solution to traffic and accidents on Interstate 81.

One bill introduced by Senator Mark Obenshain proposes

of adding tolls for long haul trucks. The money from the tolls would go toward improving the interstate through Virginia.

passed the Virginia Senate unanimously, passed the House on a 95-3 vote with an amendment by Del. Tony Wilt, and then was agreed upon by both chambers.

On April 4, Governor Ralph Northam signed the bill into law.

The Virginia Department of Transportation has reported a 12% increase in traffic on I-81 around Harrisonburg in the past five years, and delays have increased by 55%.

Widening the road would cost and estimated 10 to 15 million dollars for every mile of pavement,

.

Virginia lawmakers overwhelmingly supported Obenshain's bill to study truck tolls along I-81.

"We're gonna look at tolls on long haul, heavy trucks that travel the length of Virginia, and explore whether that can be done in a manner that isn't going to hurt our economy," said Obenshain.

Amy Funk is the owner of JKC Transport in Broadway.

"I think tolls need to be imposed on everyone, not just the trucks," said Funk.

JKC Transport has been in business for nineteen years.

"We travel the I-81 route every day."

JKC Transport includes five drivers, who travel around Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

"A toll in Pennsylvania can be anywhere from $48 to $78," said Funk.

She believes tolls wouldn't just affect truck drivers.

"A lot of times, that cost is passed down to the supplier we're hauling for. So it would be added to the freight cost, and back in to the consumer."

Funk believes tolls could hurt small trucking companies in the Valley.

"You have larger trucking companies in there, but the smaller business guys come in and take over what some of the larger ones can't necessarily take care of," said Funk.

Avoiding I-81 entirely isn't an option, thanks to electronic logging devices, or ELDs, which force drivers to use the most time sensitive route.

Truck drivers in the area have also

.

Funk says she's frustrated as a voter.

"I have a family, just like my truck drivers have a family, and if you tax the trucks, it comes off my bottom line," said Funk. "Where it affects bonuses, pay raises, to help out my drivers' families."

Amy Funk suggested Virginia follow the lead of Tennessee to raise money for road improvements. Police officers use an undercover semi as a perch to spot texters and violators and mail them tickets.

She also questions whether the HVUT, or Heavy Vehicle Use Tax, Form 2290 with the IRS, could be used to finance I-81 improvements.

"We pay $550 per truck," said Funk. "I know within a 10 mile radius, there are 200 trucks that are owner-operators in the area, so if you start doing the math, that's like $125,000."

The federal government distributes revenues back to the states for highway construction and maintenance projects.

"Where is all the money that I know, just the 200 of us in the area locally are paying, where is it going?" asked Funk.

WHSV reached out to Senator Obenshain for a response to Funk's concerns and have not yet heard back.

Other bills proposed in this year's General Assembly session to tackle the I-81 problem included one to

and one to

.

Both of those bills were pushed back to 2019 for consideration.