POLL: 92% of Southwest Virginians Opposed to I-81 Tolls

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Photo: Interstate 81 in Virginia, courtesy of Famartin
Photo: Interstate 81 in Virginia, courtesy of Famartin

A new poll conducted by Appalachian Magazine between the dates of January 25-28, reveals that the overwhelming majority of respondents are opposed to a bipartisan proposal, which includes support from the state’s Democratic governor, as well as leading Republicans, that will effectively turn Interstate 81 into a toll road.

Of the 367 respondents (based primarily in Wythe & Smyth Counties) to the Appalachian Magazine-sponsored online poll, featured here, who were asked, “Virginia legislators are considering placing tolls on I-81. What is your opinion?” 92% of them answered “I oppose tolls on I-81”, while only 8% answered “I support tolls on I-81”.

The poll comes after considerable debate initiated by Ralph Northman, Governor of Virginia, who is pushing a $2.2 billion proposal for critical improvements along the 325-mile stretch of Interstate highway in a bid to make what supporters declare as “necessary improvements” to the roadway.

In a press release, Gov. Northam stated, “Interstate 81 is the economic engine of western Virginia, and it’s time we take decisive action to enhance the safety and improve the reliability of this key corridor… I am committed to working with legislators on both sides of the aisle to establish a dedicated funding source that will support the critical improvements that Interstate 81 needs to move goods and people around the Commonwealth.”

Those opposed to adding tolls to the road, however, argue that the economic activity spurred by the highway more than pays for the necessary improvements without needing to dip further into the pockets of local residents. Others point to transportation improvements from elsewhere in the state that have been made without tolls.

On Wed. Jan. 23, it was reported that “drivers who take a highway exit to avoid having to pay a toll on Virginia’s Interstate 81 could end up paying far more after a ticket arrives in the mail…” as the state Senate Transportation Committee considered a proposal that would authorize tolling on I-81.

“Introduced by state Senator Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), the measure would also allow private companies to operate a new type of automated photo enforcement camera that issues tickets based on a motorist’s choice of route. Those attempting to save a bit of money by taking a side street could be subjected to a fine set by the Commonwealth Transportation Board.”

Though the proposal to place tolls along Interstate 81 may enjoy bipartisan support among Richmond politicians, it seems overwhelmingly clear that the measure faces equal bipartisan opposition among the residents and businesses of the I-81 corridor.

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