Planners say Saturday traffic shows need for third crossing

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by Arrianee LeBeau, 13News

WVEC.com

Posted on September 18, 2012 at 4:28 PM

Updated Tuesday, Sep 18 at 6:00 PM

NORFOLK--Tempers are still flaring about last weekend's closure of the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel eastbound and southbound James River Bridge.

The Virginia Dept. of Transportation closed the spans, forcing tens of thousands of drivers onto I-664 and through the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel.

They waited hours; some people nearly 8 hours.  While it's the worst backup many people can ever remember, it seems there's always traffic trouble at the HRBT during rush hour or when there's an accident.

Dwight Farmer with the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission said the region was due for a third crossing years ago, noting that backups at the HRBT have gone from a mile or two to as much as six miles over the last decade.

The problem with a third crossing is paying for it.

"I think because of the Port, the magnitude of the defense community here, I think clearly we need to bring federal sources of money and statewide sources of money as partial funding sources," he said.

Farmer suggests some of the funding would have to come from tolls. "We have spread this burden to both the consumer and to those that just benefit even if they are not using it on a daily basis because they are receiving services and goods through those bridges and tunnels," he explained.

Use the word tolls and many residents say no.

"Probably not, but I think my own opinion probably one or two cents on the gas tax would be less harmful to everybody rather than take it out on people who have to travel somewhere for work," said Hilbert Laidlaw.

Farmer believes without another crossing, Saturday's gridlock could become the norm.

"It really begs for a call to action," Farmer stated. "If we and the General Assembly and Congress made a decision today, we could easily be 10-12 years out."

VDOT has been pursing various third crossing plans for more than a decade. VDOT is currently reevaluating the Hampton Roads Third Crossing Environmental Impact Study to include the Craney Island Connector and a new bridge-tunnel that would connect I-564 and I-664, called Patriots Crossing. Funding sources have not been identified and a public-private partnership (P3) procurement is being considered, according to VDOT's website.

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