25 years ago: The last toll paid on Interstate 95 in Virginia

25 years ago: The last toll paid on Interstate 95 in Virginia
Posted at 12:52 AM, Jun 29, 2017

RICHMOND, Va. -- When it comes to street parties, perhaps never has there been one in RVA like the day the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike opened on June 30, 1958.

There were "antique cars, pretty girls, champagne" according to newspaper reports at the time. Huge crowds turned out, even though the road cost numerous citizens - many of them poorer African-Americans - their homes during the two years of heavy construction.

The $103 million marvel meant no more winding down busy Route 1 (Jefferson-Davis Highway) through the guts of the city. And Richmond and Petersburg were among the very first cities to build our share of what would become the nation's interstate system.

PHOTO: Richmond Times Dispatch

The first person to pay the toll waited hours for the honor and the photo-op.

But the joy of paying faded as the tolls kept being collected long after they were supposed to stop in 1986.

And it wasn't just the money, recalled former state delegate Jay DeBoer (Petersburg), who battled for a decade to get the turnpike authority to honor the initial deal to remove the tolls once the cost of the turnpike was met.

Turnpike opening (Photo courtesy: Garnett Hamerman)

The tolls created nightmarish traffic and many crashes, some of them deadly, DeBoer said.

During the first year of the tolls, 18.4 million drivers paid up. The last year they were in operation there were almost 10 times as many users - 115 million.

And DeBoer believed the tolls were an unfair burden to the citizens of Petersburg.

"The original agreement had been extended once," said DeBoer, now the director of the state's Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation. "And you could argue that extending the tolls to make the road bigger and better is a fair deal to those who are paying the tolls. But extending the tolls to pay for unrelated projects - that is a breach of faith."

The new expiration of the tolls was set for June 30, 1992. As the deadline approached DeBoer found language at the bottom of a long bill that would allow the tolls to continue in perpetuity and managed to stop it.

The Richmond-Petersburg turnpike under construction, as it passes through Jackson Ward. (PHOTO: Library of Virginia)

There was a much smaller party of sorts when the last toll was paid late at night 25 years ago.

It was at the Falling Creek on-ramp and the state Commissioner of Transportation was symbolically serving as a toll-taker, handing out commemorative coins for the newsworthy occasion.

There was DeBoer in his wife's red convertible with an anti-toll sign on the side, one of the very last to pay the toll. For dramatic effect, DeBoer made the commissioner change a $20 bill, he recalled with a laugh.

"We were fairly loud about it," he said. "Looking back, that was pretty immature. But I got to say, it was a lot of fun."

During the 34 years of tolls, the turnpike authority collected $550 million from drivers. One of the biggest expenses - $233 million - occurred while tearing down the toll booths and plazas.

So nearly half of all those quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies thrown into the toll baskets for all those years went to making them go away.



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