A win for provincialism

Published 12:10 am Sunday, November 3, 2013

If you needed yet another good reason to spend as much of your time and money in Suffolk as possible, the Virginia Supreme Court obliged this week with a gut-punch of a ruling on a tolling scheme that will result in a de facto tax increase of $1,000 a year or more for folks who regularly commute across the Elizabeth River.

It would be an overstatement to call the ruling allowing the imposition of tolls on both tunnels and the MLK Extension the death knell for regionalism in Hampton Roads. But it’s safe to say that the prospect of paying tolls starting at $1.59 for passenger vehicles will deter many folks from unnecessarily making the drive — whether from the east or from the west.

Suffolk already has to work especially hard to attract visitors from Norfolk and Virginia Beach. When those folks realize that the trip will cost them a couple of bucks more, they’ll be more likely to look for something to do on their own side of the water.

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Meanwhile, those cities will continue to advertise themselves as destinations for shopping and entertainment in hopes of attracting visitors from all over the area — including west of the tolled river crossings. Many Suffolk residents work on the other side of the river, and they will have to pay the tolls or wait in even worse traffic to cross un-tolled bridges in order to go to and from work each day. Whether they will be willing to pay the extra cost of traveling back and forth to Norfolk and Virginia Beach for non-essential purposes, however, remains to be seen.

Even if the initial $1.59 toll turns out to be less deterrence than annoyance, though, it’s safe to assume that, in the face of rush-hour pricing and guaranteed 13.5-percent annual returns for the company administering the tolls, folks eventually will conclude it’s just too expensive and too much trouble to head outside of Suffolk for their shopping, dining and entertainment activities.

If there’s a silver lining in this cloud, it could very well be the bump Suffolk businesses can expect from Suffolk residents as the tunnel and highway projects move along and the tolls climb.

The court’s ruling might not be an end to regionalism in Hampton Roads, but it most certainly will be a boon to provincialism, and that could turn into a good thing for Suffolk.