Archived Story

A good time coming soon

Published 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.

  • Roger Leonard

    You make a very interesting supposition, that the isolation of the core metro-area by the cost of tolling at the tunnels and diversion impacts on other gateways, will change business decisions that benefit Suffolk.

    While this is an interesting exercise, time will tell. In my opinion as a Senior Planner and Development Executive, would respectfully state that there must also be included several other issues that do attach.

    The first and usually most distasteful issue that comes to mind, is the difficulty with which one usually has in playing the political games we always find in Suffolk, which does impede rational decision making. Many such comes right to mind, right now!

    Then there are many decision-makers that will discount the impact of the tolls for the benefits of more urban areas on the “other-side” of the tolled tunnels. Many more will also calculate the costs of doing business with an inefficient government that is at best inept or at worst, is abjectly maniacal in its demands for direct benefits for the few in power downtown. And many such examples come to mind for that statement, too…

    If I were consulting on such decisions and I do, I would advise a full assessment of impacts and costs, and then would advocate that the tolls while real; have a minimal impact related to the cost and pain of doing business in Suffolk under the present regime in power. If you really want to make this work, Suffolk needs to isolate the process and base it on merit, not whom will benefit downtown. A really novel-idea for anything that has money attached or benefit that accrues, in “Surprising Suffolk”…

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    • 4ever cynical

      Agreed. For this to be a real possibility, there needs to be a significant turnover of city leadership. The Mayor, City Manager and the majority of City Council need to be replaced. The network of collusion on Main Street needs to be broken up, otherwise we remain or may even grow more irrelevant.

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