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Proposed Interstate 81 tolls could increase the cost of goods

(WCYB/Caleb Perhne)

A bipartisan proposal announced by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam would raise $2.2 billion dollars for highway improvements. It could result in increased costs for trucking and consumers.

Sen. Bill Carrico of Galax supports tolls to fund highway improvements.

"I-81 is the most dangerous road you can travel with the millions of trucks that travel that road every year,” Carrico said.

A department of transportation report released in December recommended wider shoulders, truck climbing lanes and more lanes in bigger cities.

VDOT suggested a toll of 7.5 cents per mile for passenger vehicles and 15 cents for commercial trucks. That means a trip across the state would cost nearly $25 each way, $50 for trucks.

"We don't go on the Pennsylvania Turnpike because of the tolls,” traveler Kathy Smeltzer said during a stop in Bristol. “We try to find alternate routes."

Much like other states that have toll roads, the proposal includes the idea of a $30 annual pass for frequent travelers.

Trucking companies could be hit hardest. Roger's Trucking in Abingdon already spends more than $60,000 per year on tolls in other states.

If they paid the proposed 15 cents per mile on the nearly 600,000 miles they traveled in Virginia last year, that would more than double costs.

"The consumer, it's going to cost us more, so it's going to cost them more,” company president Roger Roe said.

Roe wants a fuel tax increase instead. He agrees something needs to be done.

"It actually should be six lanes the whole state of Virginia," Roe said.

Some local legislators, including Del. Terry Kilgore, are still weighing support.

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