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A Bay Restoration Smartpass?

While the debate in the Virginia General Assembly intensifies about transportation funding – how billions of dollars can possibly be funded for new construction and maintenance – there remains another debate – how billions can also be funded for Chesapeake Bay restoration. The use of the toll mechanism may be a fair means to help pay for both.

Some argue that an increase in the transportation tax, while perhaps needed, is bound to provide less return in the future due to likely increases in vehicle mileage and use of electric cars. While this may be the case in the distant future, the average miles per gallon of cars in the U.S. hasn’t increased much lately and as for electric cars - there isn’t much of a demand yet. Regardless, the use of tolls is a mechanism to help place the cost of roads where it belongs – on its users.

The link between roads, and perhaps tolls, and the Bay, is coming more into view. Until recently, scientists thought that nitrogen pollution from vehicle exhaust rises into the atmosphere. The latest evidence suggests this is not the case – nitrogen pollution from vehicular exhaust is deposited in the immediate vicinity of highways – on roads, trees, and buildings.[1]In contrast, nitrogen deposited on forests is retained in the forest. [2]This finding means there should be significantly greater emphasis on the treatment of nitrogen pollution deposited directly on the road surface and new land use policies, plans, and BMPs to link vegetation with mobile sources of pollution within a several kilometer swath around highways.  


Our “back of the envelope” calculations show the following regarding the possible implementation of this concept for the proposed Rappahannock Parkway – the toll road that until recent elections in Spotsylvania and Stafford Counties have placed the project in doubt, would link I-95 to Rt. 3 West:

The cost to neutralize the impact of nitrogen on the Bay would be 2 cents per vehicle per trip.  

Note: This includes implementation and maintenance of an on-going program to neutralize impact.

The Commonwealth of Virginia, working with the Environmental Protection Agency, is working on a Bay Restoration Plan that is expected to drive responsibility for reducing pollution down to the local government level. The cost of achieving likely pollution reductions has been estimated to be billions of dollars for the states in the Chesapeake Bay drainage basin. Facing these costs, urban jurisdictions could seek innovative ways to meet these reductions and save money.  The proposed mechanism would create a systems approach to fund restoration – with less reliance on taxpayers footing the bill through the local government general fund – and more reliance on those actually causing the problems.  

- Michael Collins

Note 1: Workshop on Atmospheric Deposition of Nitrogen, Chesapeake Bay Program Science and Technical Advisory Committee, January 8, 2009, STAC Publication 09-001

Note 2: The Global Exposure of Forests to Air Pollution, April, 1999. Fowler, David et. al., Water, Air, and Soil Pollution, Volume 116.


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