AP Political Writer
RICHMOND, Va. - Gov. Bob McDonnell's besieged plan to finance upgrades to Interstate 95 in Virginia by collecting tolls near the North Carolina border took another blow Friday when fellow Republican George Allen announced his opposition.
Allen, running this fall to regain the U.S. Senate seat he lost in 2006, said in a press release Friday afternoon that the levy of $4 per car and $12 per big rig would harm job-creation efforts in the low-income farming region and impose undue hardships on commuters already struggling with fuel prices approaching $4 per gallon.
"Tolls at times may be appropriate for new construction when paid for by those who would use the road. However, I do not support the proposal to install tolls on the southern stretch of I-95," Allen's one-paragraph statement said.
The statement makes him the second high-profile Republican to reject the proposed tolls as opposition across economically struggling Southside Virginia coalesces against it. U.S. Rep. J. Randy Forbes, whose 4th District takes in the region, is solidly opposed to it.
The opposition also includes at least 17 city or county governments and regional governmental and economic development bodies in the largely agricultural area south of Richmond toward the Carolina border.
McDonnell spokesman J. Tucker Martin dismissed Allen's opposition as "the occasional disagreement among friends on a specific issue or two. That's par for the course."
Calling tolls a "user fee," Martin argued that it would harness money from a large ratio of out-of-state motorists and said it "makes sound fiscal sense, and provides critical new funding for transportation without raising taxes in a time of economic difficulty."
It would average out to 2 cents per mile, and constitute the lowest rate on the East Coast, Martin said.
McDonnell and an allied Republican-run General Assembly agreed to tolls as a way to generate money for overdue upgrades, expansion and upkeep of I-95 as an alternative to fuel tax increases, which Virginia legislators over the years have routinely rejected.
The proposal is still under review by the Federal Highway Administration.
Tolling would generate nearly $30 million to $35 million a year, but opponents say the state could generate many times more with less pain and distribute the burden more equitably with a marginal increase in the state's 17 1/2-cent gasoline tax that has not increased since 1986.
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