By MELISSA TOPEY
For the Daily News-Record 6/20/19
Motorists in counties along, or even near, Interstate 81 will begin paying more for fuel starting July 1.
In a special session in April, the Virginia General Assembly approved a gas sales tax increase of 7.6 cents per gallon for unleaded gasoline and 7.7 cents per gallon of diesel fuel to help fund $2 billion in improvements along the 325-mile-stretch of Interstate 81 from Winchester to Bristol.
According to the Department of Motor Vehicles, the current sales tax is 16.2 cents per gallon for unleaded and 20.3 cents per gallon for diesel.
State Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, who helped spur the study for improvements to I-81, did not support the fuel tax increase as a means of funding the improvements.
“I felt it was an ineffective way to raise the money. It is disproportionately born by drivers of cars, not trucks, and it is borne by in-state drivers,” Obenshain said.
Obenshain in the past has said I-81 carries 42 percent of all truck vehicle miles traveled in Virginia. He has said a fuels tax would impact area residents whether they drive on the interstate or not.
Counties and the towns within them that will be impacted by the increase include Augusta, Rockingham, Shenandoah, Warren, and Frederick counties.
Obenshain also pointed out that the geographic scope of where the tax will occur extends beyond the interstate.
There are 10 counties that the interstate does not run through but will incur the gas tax increase, he said.
They are Clarke, Page, Highland, Bath, Alleghany, Gray, Giles, Franklin, Floyd, and Grayson counties, Obenshain said.
The tax will initially be placed on all oil companies serving the area, like Holtzman Oil. It will then make its way to the consumers at the pump.
“It definitely goes to the consumer. It goes straight to the pump,” said Bill Holtzman, president of Holtzman Oil, in a message left in response to a request for a phone interview.
Richard Koontz, vice president of Holtzman Oil, said in a phone interview that company employees are prepared for the increase, adding it to their price formula.
“It is a tax that we will have to charge to our fuelers who will then have to pass it down to the consumers,” Koontz confirmed.
Some of the key improvements the tax is expected to help fund include:
• In the Winchester area, the widening of three lanes in both directions from exit 313 – the Winchester/ Apple Blossom Mall exit – to exit 317 – north of Winchester city limits in Frederick County.
• Southbound widening to three lanes from Interstate 66 to Route 55.
• Southbound acceleration lane extension at exit 296 – Route 55 in Strasburg.
• In the Middletown area, the northbound acceleration lane extension at exit 302.
• In the Toms Brook area, the northbound acceleration lane extension at exit 291.
• In the Woodstock area, the southbound acceleration lane extension at exit 283.
• The northbound deceleration lane extension at the truck scales.
• In the Edinburg area, the southbound acceleration lane extension at 279.