Southern VA protesters call I-95 toll "highway robbery"

Many drivers in Southern Virginia are saying "no" to the toll.

Monday night, the Virginia Department of Transportation made its case for a proposed toll plaza on I-95, in Sussex County. Cars would pay $4 each way through the plaza; trucks would pay up to $15.

Protesters in Southern Virginia are calling this toll "highway robbery." They say that Sussex County is one of the poorest communities in the Commonwealth, and believe they're being unfairly targeted.

Stony Creek resident Kenny Young brought his children to the anti-toll rally, held before VDOT's public meeting. Young's children displayed their father's concern, wearing signs that read, "95 tolls take food away from my mouth."

"Times are tough. I can't afford to pay the tolls on the salary I make," said Young. "I'm trying to just support a family of four."

VDOT defended its choice to put the toll by Jarratt by mile marker 22, on I-95. Transportation officials say up to 80 percent of the vehicles that pass through the stretch are from out-of-state. VDOT also says it needs $12 billion in upcoming years to repair one of Virginia's most vital arteries.

"You've got an interstate that's over 50 years old," said Michael Estes, Director of Strategic Initiatives with VDOT. "You've got 80 percent of the bridges over 50 years old. You've got 70 percent of pavement in need of reconstruction."

However, residents pressed that the toll would be too taxing on their commute.

"Yes, we need roads. Everyone agrees to that. But, you're picking the poorest county in Virginia," said one man at the microphone. The vast majority of the auditorium was packed with people against the toll.

VDOT officials say they are trying to lift the financial burden off residents who live in the area. They proposed three possible discount options for local residents, which could save area drivers up to 83 percent.

Concerns over possible traffic hazards and congestion on nearby U.S. Highway 301 were also expressed. VDOT responded by saying it's currently conducting an impact study, and that the reduced rate would help keep traffic from deterring to Highway 301.

Legislators in Washington, D.C. will ultimately vote on whether to implement the toll, on an interstate highway that has traditionally been free. If it's passed, VDOT expects the toll to be running by 2015.

The next public hearing on the I-95 toll will be Wednesday night in Chester, at John Tyler Community College, in the Nicholas Student Center.

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