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Virginia tolls are expensive; expert explains why

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(The Center Square) — Online loan marketplace LendingTree recently released a report revealing some surprising statistics about some Virginia roadways.

In looking at the most recent toll data from the Federal Highway Administration in 2021, LendingTree discovered that Virginia had the highest maximum fee per mile on interstate toll roads in the country, at an average of $3.27. Virginia also had the highest maximum fee per mile on bridge and tunnel interstate toll roads, at $7.50.

Some of the most expensive roadways in the commonwealth were the I-66 express lanes toward Arlington County and the Elizabeth River Downtown Tunnel toward Portsmouth, the third-costliest interstate toll in the United States at $4.75 maximum fee per mile and the third-most expensive bridge or tunnel toll nationwide at $7.50 maximum fee per mile, respectively.

That Virginia ranks so highly for toll fees might come as a surprise to those who have driven through some of its neighboring states to the North and East – but that’s because there are some important distinctions to be made when comparing Virginia tolls to others across the country, according to Baruch Feigenbaum, senior managing director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation.

“The reason that Virginia has the highest tolls is because Virginia’s toll lanes are in urban areas and designed to manage congestion,” Feigenbaum told The Center Square.

A lot of other states with some of the highest tolls have tolled rural roads, which are generally less expensive than urban roads, according to Feigenbaum. Also, in Virginia, drivers often have the option of taking a toll road or a non-tolled route, which isn’t the case everywhere.

“Those rural roads are going to be cheaper to build, operate, and maintain because they are in rural locations and because every driver pays the toll,” Feigenbaum said. “Most of [Virginia’s] toll roads are optional managed lanes where the driver can choose the tolled lane or a non-tolled lane.”

While Virginia tolls might be relatively high, its fuel tax—though ninth highest in the nation, according to a Tax Foundation report—isn’t considering the size of its population, according to Feigenbaum. And that’s at least in part thanks to its tolls.

“For a high-population state, Virginia has a middle-of-the-road fuel tax. Tolls are one of the revenue forms that supplements fuel taxes,” Feigenbaum said.

Because Virginia “historically underinvested in interstate capacity,” toll lanes might be its best play for keeping traffic moving in busy areas.

“Given the system that Virginia has, adding the toll lanes is the most realistic option to manage congestion, even if their rates are higher than other regions,” Feigenbaum said.

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