A good time coming soonPublished 9:37pm Wednesday, February 12, 2014
With a little more than a week’s worth of work days measured, Elizabeth River Crossings — the private partner in charge of work on Downtown and Midtown tunnels and the one that will collect tolls on those crossings for the next 58 years — has estimated traffic in the tunnels fell by 22 percent since Feb. 1, the day tolls began to be charged. On weekend days, the difference has been even greater, with tunnel traffic down nearly 27 percent.
For better or for worse, the initiation of the new tunnel tolls already has begun changing commuting patterns in Hampton Roads.
A poll question on the Suffolk News-Herald website, though not a scientific reading of the situation, provides some insight into the extent to which the new tolls are affecting people in Suffolk. About 43 percent of those responding said the new tolls had caused them to change their commute in some way. About 34 percent said they had not altered their route. A final 23 percent said they did not use the tunnels prior to the new tolls, so it’s likely they have not been affected by the change.
In other words, more than three-quarters of those answering the poll question online consider themselves to have a stake in the future of tolls on Elizabeth River crossings. Of that percentage, well over half said they had changed their commute because of the tolls.
For now, many people who live in Suffolk and head to Norfolk or Virginia Beach for work or leisure will content themselves with finding another, toll-free, route. But as folks around Hampton Roads use those alternatives, the toll-free routes will become more clogged. In the long run, the new tolls will cause some folks to reconsider whether they want to live in Suffolk and others to search for work alternatives that will keep them here all day.
The new tunnel tolls are an egregious assault on an unfairly small segment of the commonwealth’s taxpayers, but this assault could also be a golden economic opportunity in disguise for Suffolk. The tunnel tolls could make Suffolk an increasingly attractive option for companies that want an inexpensive place to do business, along with a high standard of living for their employees and the ability for them to live, work and play, all in the same place.
It will take some time for Suffolk to develop the infrastructure and the inertia it needs to become that place. But as the tolls rise during the next 58 years — and as companies find themselves increasingly marooned on the wrong side of the water with limited options for avoiding the high cost of crossing it — Peanut City’s current motto, “It’s a good time to be in Suffolk,” will begin to make more and more sense to those who aren’t already here.