Council to consider resolution on tolls

Published 10:29 pm Thursday, March 22, 2012

The City Council decided on Wednesday to take action on the tolls facing the city’s residents who travel to other parts of Hampton Roads.

The City Council voted unanimously to direct the city manager to begin drafting a resolution addressing the issue and to invite a representative from the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission to make a presentation at the next meeting about the impact of the tolls.

“We need a solution,” Mayor Linda T. Johnson said, repeating her stated position that there needs to be a dedicated revenue source for transportation funding. “While we all agree these tolls are onerous and something that we don’t want to see, we also want to make sure that we address transportation needs in some way, and we’ve got to figure out that solution.”

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During a Senate Finance Committee meeting Thursday, a budget amendment was passed to delay the implementation of tolls until 2014.

The tolls on the Downtown Tunnel, Midtown Tunnel and MLK Extension project were initially expected to begin this summer. They are the result of a public/private partnership between the Virginia Department of Transportation and Elizabeth River Crossings, which would profit from the tolls.

The rate currently is proposed at $1.84 for cars at the tunnels. On the MLK Extension, tolls would be $1 for non-tunnel users and 50 cents for tunnel users. The toll rate would escalate based on increases in costs for operations and maintenance.

Johnson said City Council members have received a number of letters and emails from Suffolk residents concerned about the project.

“We’ve gotten some that say kill the project; we’ve gotten some that say no tolls; we’ve gotten some that are just adamantly against the (Public-Private Transportation Act),” she said. “We have this whole myriad of suggestions and ways. I understand all of those, but we need a solution.”

She pointed to the non-existent King’s Highway Bridge as an example of what happens when people simply want to kill a project and don’t offer a solution. The bridge, which closed in March 2005, carried traffic between the villages of Driver and Chuckatuck and eventually was closed for safety after a years-long stalemate on building a replacement.

City staff will begin crafting a resolution for the council’s consideration at its next meeting, April 4.