By Lauren McClellan
Capital News Service
RICHMOND — Critics of the proposed Hampton Roads tolls are unsatisfied by the new governor’s initiatives reducing – and in some cases eliminating — those tolls, which are scheduled to take effect Feb. 1.
This past week Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced the Downtown and Midtown Tunnels would not charge tolls to emergency vehicles. Earlier he also said the Commonwealth Transportation Board determined passenger-car-peak-period tolls would be reduced from $1.84 to $1 each way.
However, members of Citizens for Accountability in Politics Political Action Committee, an organization concerning itself with Hampton Roads issues, say the tolls are fundamentally unfair because they were imposed by unelected officials.
“It’s good the tolls will be lowered, but that’s only for two years. Then the inflated tolls will resume,” CAPPAC members Roger and Glenna Cornett stated, in an email. “The contract should be voided. Period.”
The tolls are the result of a private-public partnership between the Virginia Department of Transportation and Elizabeth River Crossings, which is described in a press release as the “private partner of VDOT for the design, construction, finance, operations and maintenance of the Elizabeth River Tunnels Project.”
CAPPAC challenged the tolls in circuit court and won … but lost on appeal to the Supreme Court of Virginia.
The Cornetts say they are concerned about the cost of the project and the fact that the ERC, with the current contract, is entitled to a 13.5 percent profit each year.
McAuliffe’s toll announcements have not changed their stance on the issue.
“They should have raised the taxes and all this mess with the tolls would not have come about,” the Cornetts stated.
For the average driver, who uses these roads every day to get to and from work, those tolls hikes would have cost about $1,000 a year, according to a report by WAVY-TV in Hampton Roads.
The revised tolls will cost passenger-vehicle drivers $1 during peak times and 75 cents during all other times. For truck drivers, the toll will be $4 during peak times and $2.25 all other times.
Passenger-vehicle drivers without E-Z Pass may pay as much as $2.25 per trip in 2014.
Lowering tolls will cost the state $82.5 million over the next three years, according to a Jan. 16 Richmond Times-Dispatch article. A press release from the governor’s office stated the funds, “will come from a combination of bonds and other funds that have not been assigned to specific transportation projects.”
For passenger vehicles, tolls will increase by 25 cents every year until 2017 … or when most of the new Midtown tunnel is completed. Then, tolls will be a set amount agreed upon by the VDOT and Elizabeth River Crossings.