Court upholds tolls

Published 10:31 pm Thursday, October 31, 2013

Opponents of tolls in Hampton Roads were disappointed to learn Wednesday that the state Supreme Court had struck down a Circuit Court ruling against tolls on the Midtown and Downtown tunnels and the MLK Extension.

The lawsuit by a group of Portsmouth citizens and others convinced the Circuit Court judge on May 1 that the $2.04 billion deal is inappropriate.

However, the Supreme Court found the tolls are a user fee, rather than a tax, and that the General Assembly did not act outside of its authority by delegating power to impose and set the rate of the user fee to the Virginia Department of Transportation.

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Tolls are set to begin in February.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate in Tuesday’s gubernatorial election, issued a statement following the ruling.

“The attorney general’s job is to defend and uphold the laws of the commonwealth, and that’s what we did in this case,” he wrote in an email. “While I understand some people in Hampton Roads dislike these tolls, Virginia’s Public-Private Transportation Act is a significant law that makes it possible to develop major transportation projects that might not otherwise be built. Those projects are needed to decrease congestion on our roads, which is critical to keeping business and commuters moving throughout the commonwealth.”

Opponents said the lawsuit, officially Danny Meeks, et al. v. Virginia Department of Transportation, et al., is only “one battle in the war against privatization.”

“For those who think the fight is over, understand something: This is just the beginning,” a Facebook user named Terry Danaher posted on the Tidewater Against Unfair Tolls page. “We are fighting the privatization of our taxpayer-funded infrastructure and systems If we just roll over and let this decision stand, we are complicit in stealing the future from the next generation of citizens.”

Gov. Bob McDonnell applauded the ruling in an emailed statement.

“The court’s decision means the facilities can be tolled so project development and construction can continue, which will bring significant improvements to the region’s transportation network,” he wrote.