Too late to be upset about tolls

Published 9:23 pm Monday, November 4, 2013

By Joseph L. Bass

Recently the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that a contract is constitutional between the Virginia Department of Transportation and Elizabeth River Crossings that provides tolls for traveling through tunnels. The contract is based on the 1995 Public Private Transportation Act.

Many people are not happy about either the contract or the ruling, thinking that the tolls constitute a tax not voted on by elected representatives. Many who travel to work through the tunnels see the tolls as a reduction in salary. Some business owners think tolls will result in reduced business, since many people will not go through the tunnels to shop outside their home area.

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This situation and others like it represent a sad commentary on Hampton Roads residents not being actively involved in political processes. Typically people don’t pay attention to what is going on until the horse is already out of the barn and only become concerned and active when they see how political decisions are going to hurt their wallets. By then it’s too late.

Consider how this situation developed and realize this pattern is typical of many similar situations.

Well before an announcement was made regarding the contract between the Virginia Department of Transportation and Elizabeth River Crossings, there were numerous public hearings and opportunities for citizens to express concerns through local newspapers and TV news program websites. There was little public uprising against the proposed contract and tolls during the hearing/consideration stage.

I don’t recall there being any public reaction from elected officials and the various city governments from Portsmouth, Suffolk, Isle of Wight or Smithfield. These are the places that will be most affected by the tolls and are home to those who are most upset by the ruling.

It was only after the contract was signed that strong objections were voiced. By then it was too late.

Unfortunately this scenario is typical of many such situations. Every time there is a contract signed under the 1995 Public Private Transportation Act, people are upset. The sequence of events usually follows the same pattern: people are upset about a new public/private contract after it is announced, there is a lot of arm waving, letter writing and so on, but eventually the uproar dies down.

People only engage in the incidental situations after the fact, instead of looking at the long-range problem — the 1995 Public Private Transportation Act. There is no public dialogue discussing whether the law should be repealed. There is no public examination of elected politicians’ current support the act. Few voice the possibility that the act is nothing more than a dodge by elected officials to avoid voting for unpopular higher taxes.

If members of the public dislike what is going on in Richmond, they should pay more attention and become actively involved, paying close attention to what their elected representatives are doing and letting them know their views, instead of waiting until the horse is already out of the barn.

Joseph L. Bass, Ed.D., is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at