State appeals toll ruling

Published 8:58 pm Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Attorney General’s office has filed an appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia to overturn a Circuit Court ruling that tolls on local tunnels are unconstitutional.

The office also filed a motion to stay the lower court’s ruling so that Elizabeth River Crossings will be able to begin tolling the Midtown and Downtown tunnels beginning Feb. 1 and asked the court to expedite consideration of the appeal.

Judge James A. Cales Jr. ruled in May on the lawsuit, Meeks v. VDOT, filed by a group of citizens and business owners. He ruled the General Assembly abdicated its responsibilities in delegating taxing authority to the Virginia Department of Transportation. But that ruling means the tolls are considered a tax, which the state does not believe is correct.

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“Since the tolls are for a single project, the commonwealth argues the tolls cannot be considered a tax,” read a press release from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s office. “Furthermore, VDOT has full authority to set reasonable tolls to pay for the construction, operation, and maintenance of the projects under the Public-Private Transportation Act.”

The state’s appeal argues the tolls are user fees and cannot be taxes, because they are voluntary — that is, motorists could choose to use the Gilmerton Bridge or the high rise bridge as free alternative routes between Norfolk and Portsmouth.

The state also says it would suffer irreparable harm, because not overturning the lower court’s decision would affect not only the tunnels project, but also similar ones throughout the state.

Tolls on the tunnels would cost daily commuters about $1,000 a year.