Tolling advocates cheer Virginia court ruling in their favor

Advocates of expanding tolling on U.S. highways are cheering a ruling by the Virginia Supreme Court that private-public partnerships can include tolls.

A group of Virginia residents had challenged the inclusion of tolls on a pair of tunnel projects in Norfolk, Va., arguing that the tolls were really a tax that should only be levied by the state government.

The Washington, D.C.-based International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) said the Virginia high court made the correct decision by ruling in its favor on Thursday.

“The Supreme Court of Virginia issued the correct ruling today in determining that tolls on the Midtown and Downtown tunnels are constitutional,” IBTTA Executive Director Patrick Jones said in a statement. 

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“Tolls are not a tax; they are a user fee," Jones continued. "The truth is that tolls are a fair and precise way to pay for transportation facilities because there is a clear and direct link between use of the facility and payment for that use. If you don’t use the facility, you don’t pay for it. You only pay a toll when you choose to drive on a toll road for a higher level of convenience, reliability and safety.”

Jones said the Virginia ruling could have had major implications on toll projects in other states if the decision had gone the other way.

“With an ever increasing burden on states and municipalities to pay for highway and infrastructure development and maintenance, tolling is an incredibly valuable tool that must remain in the toolbox for government officials," he said. "Today’s ruling thankfully allows officials in the Commonwealth of Virginia to continue to embrace tolling as a proven, reliable funding method that is already delivering results in 34 states across the country.”

Virginia has made numerous changes to its methods of funding transportation projects, including the construction of High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes in the Washington, D.C., suburbs of northern Virginia. 

Lawmakers in Congress have suggested that they might consider emulating a Virginia plan to collect gas taxes on retailers instead of from drivers at the pump to boost revenue for federal transportation projects.