Toll reductions fail to impress opponents

Published 7:02pm Saturday, January 25, 2014

By Lauren McClellan

Capital News Service

Critics of the proposed Hampton Roads tolls are unsatisfied by the new governor’s initiatives reducing — and in some cases eliminating — those tolls, which are scheduled to take effect on Saturday.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced last week the Downtown and Midtown tunnels would not charge tolls to emergency vehicles. Earlier he had said the Commonwealth Transportation Board determined passenger-car-peak-period tolls would be reduced from $1.84 to $1 each way.

However, members of Citizens for Accountability in Politics, a Hampton Roads political action committee, say the tolls are fundamentally unfair, because they were imposed by unelected officials.

“It’s good the tolls will be lowered, but that’s only for two years. Then the inflated tolls will resume,” CAPPAC members Roger and Glenna Cornett stated in an email. “The contract should be voided. Period.”

The tolls are the result of a private-public partnership between the Virginia Department of Transportation and Elizabeth River Crossings, the private partner working with VDOT to design, build, finance, operate and maintain the tunnels and the eventual Martin Luther King Freeway extension.

CAPPAC challenged the tolls in circuit court and won but lost on appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia.

The Cornetts say they are concerned about the cost of the project and the fact that the ERC, with the current contract, is entitled to a 13.5 percent profit each year.

McAuliffe’s toll announcements have not changed their stance on the issue.

“They should have raised the taxes and all this mess with the tolls would not have come about,” the Cornetts stated.

Lowering tolls will cost the state $82.5 million over the next three years. The governor’s office has said that money would come from a combination of unassigned bonds and other funds.

For the average commuter, the toll hikes would have cost about $1,000 a year. The revised tolls will cost passenger-vehicle drivers $1 during peak times and 75 cents during all other times. For truck drivers, the toll will be $4 during peak times and $2.25 all other times.

Drivers without E-ZPass would pay significantly more, and they will receive bills in the mail for their tolls.

For passenger vehicles, tolls will increase by 25 cents every year until 2017, or when the new Midtown tunnel reaches “substantial completion.” Then, tolls will revert to the levels set in the PPTA agreement.

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