Governor supports toll delay

Published 9:46 pm Monday, April 16, 2012

Tolls on area river crossings are another step closer to reality after the state and a private company closed the deal Monday.

However, toll collection — originally scheduled to begin this summer — may be delayed until January 2014 pending action by the Commonwealth Transportation Board to allocate funding, a move that has been endorsed by Gov. Bob McDonnell.

The close of the deal between Virginia Department of Transportation and Elizabeth River Crossings releases all funding needed for the $2.1 billion project. It would rehabilitate the existing Midtown and Downtown tunnels, place a second tube at the Midtown Tunnel and extend the Martin Luther King Boulevard.

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Construction is expected to begin this fall on the projects. The tolls are expected to range from $1.59 to $1.85 per car for the tunnels and 50 cents to $1 for the MLK Extension, depending on whether the driver just paid a toll at the tunnel.

“Financial close marks a significant step forward for transportation improvements in Hampton Roads,” McDonnell said. “Once this project is completed, motorists will save about a half-hour round trip everyday plus benefit from a much improved transportation network that will better connect the region, stimulate the local economy and create jobs.”

VDOT and Elizabeth River Crossings also agreed to implement measures that would protect motorists using the MLK Extension for a local trip in Portsmouth from having to pay a toll.

Funding for the toll delay mostly is being provided by funds set aside for the state’s contribution toward closing costs that were not needed because of low interest rates, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

VDOT will present the governor’s request to the CTB at its Wednesday board meeting in Richmond.

Under the Public-Private Transportation Act, VDOT continues ownership of the infrastructure and oversees the private company’s activities. ERC will finance, build, operate and maintain the facilities for a 58-year concession period. ERC also assumes risk of delivering the project on a performance-based, fixed-price, fixed-date contract, protecting users and taxpayers from cost overruns and delays. In addition, ERC will be responsible for long-term routine and life-cycle maintenance of the project for the term of the concession.

“The Midtown Tunnel project is ranked as the number one transportation priority by the region’s leaders and is the largest project to get under way in the region in almost 30 years,” said Transportation Secretary Sean T. Connaughton. “Procurement as a public private partnership is the only feasible way to fund a project of this magnitude, and that depends on tolls.”

For more information on the project, visit www.midtowntunnel.org.