Foolish Parkway tolls idea resurfaces

Dan Casey of The Roanoke Times resurrects a column from last year today to — once again — propose tolls or a fee for use of the Blue Ridge Parkway.

Casey points to the crappy condition of some sections of the Parkway — especially the section between U.S. 460 and U.S. 220 — which many Roanoke-area commuters use as a shortcut.

I rode that section on my Harley over the weekend and, yes, it’s bad in some spots and the travel is down to one lane at one point because of bridge construction.

But I also travel the section from U.S. 221 from the top of Bent Mountain down to U.S. 220 on a regular basis and it is in great shape as the National Park Service puts the finishing touches on a massive resurfacing project that began in 2008.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte proposes an annual fee, noting that the Skyline Drive that traverses Shenandoah National Park from Front Royal to Waynesboro charges a fee.

Goodlatte is a politician and they like quick fixes to problems. The problem with quick fixes is that they seldom work and they might not be legal.

When the National Park Service built the Parkway, it had to cut a lot of deals with states and localities to allow construction of the two-lane road through Virginia and North Carolina. Some of the deals included agreements to never, ever, charge a fee to use the Parkway through some sections of both states. The Park Service cut a similar deal for the road that travels through Smokey Mountain National Park.

Floyd County is one of the local entities where the Park Service agreed to not charge fees for use of the road. The Parkway cut through the middle of several farms in the county and the NPS also agreed to keep access to — and across the Parkway — open to any and all users.

It took about 30 minutes of research at the library in Floyd to turn up news articles from 1935 about agreements to keep the parkway fee-free. Construction on the Parkway began in North Carolina the next month and the following February in Virginia.

While Federal law allows the charging of fees for use in National Parks, the Parkway is not a national park but a “National Scenic Byway” and a designated “All-American Road.” The Parkway falls under the same rules and regulations as the George Washington Parkway that runs in Northern Virginia near Washington and is toll free.

Casey’s argument that commuter traffic helps destroy the Parkway surface between 220 and 460 might hold water if that was the worst section of the Parkway but the section that runs from Meadows of Dan down to the North Carolina border is littered with far more potholes and rough surfaces and that’s a rural stretch not known for commuter traffic.

The Parkway needs help and it needs funds for long-overdue repairs but there are many roads in the region in far worse shape and in need of more repair. Turning the parkway into a toll road ain’t the answer.

And it could be illegal.

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5 thoughts on “Foolish Parkway tolls idea resurfaces”

  1. I guess congress is too busy wasting our money on other projects. They shouldn’t be bothered with something so simple as paving a road. And by the way Doug, I don’t really think this congress really cares that much about the legality of anything anyway.

    • There are a number of differences between the Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway. First, Shenandoah National Park is exactly that — a national park and federal law governing national parks applies. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a Scenic Byway. Different rules apply. An exception to the national park rule is the Smokey Mountains National Park, which cannot charge a fee because of an agreement with the State of North Carolina when it was built.

      Also, the Skyline Drive did not bisect privately-owned farmland when it was built. It does not have local roads intersecting it. The Parkway does. There are hundreds of agreements on file with the Commonwealth, counties and even private landowners regarding the Parkway in both Virginia and North Carolina. Most date back to the 1930s and some are buried deep in files in Washington and county courthouses. The entire issue of tolls would most likely spawn lawsuits and jurisdictional disputes that would drag through the courts forever and would probably cost more than it would take to just repave the entire parkway.

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