The cost of toll relief: $82.5 million to buy down the tolls

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by 13News Now

WVEC.com

Posted on January 14, 2014 at 12:43 PM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 15 at 7:27 PM

UPDATE 1/15 12:45 p.m.: The Commonwealth Transportation Board Wednesday approved a plan to reduce tolls at the Downtown and Midtown Tunnels. 

During 2014 construction, drivers in off-peak hours would pay $.75  and $1.00 during peak hours.
For 2015, the price would go up $.25.  In 2016, the price would rise another quarter.

As of January 1, 2017, tolls would increase to the original planned levels of $1.59 off-peak each way and $1.84 during peak hours.

Gov. McAuliffe said the cost of tolls was going to be too high. 

"This buys us some time to do what we need to do," McAuliffe said. 

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PORTSMOUTH - A plan to be presented Wednesday to the Commonwealth Transportation Board would set toll rates at the Downtown and Midtown tunnels at $.75 each way during non-peak times and $1.00 during peak travel times.

Tolls are set to begin February 1.

It's the news tens of thousands of drivers have been hoping for - toll relief.  

Portsmouth Mayor Kenny Wright said he was briefed on the proposal by State Senator Kenny Alexander. He says those rates are for the first year and will gradually increase after. 

Mayor Wright thanked Alexander on his Elizabeth River Crossings has been approached by our partners at VDOT regarding a reduction in tolls; however, no agreement is finalized," spokeswoman Leila Rice told WVEC.com.

In an address to the General Assembly Monday night, Gov. Terry McAuliffe promised to look at getting some help for people who have to use the tunnels. Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne told members of the House of Delegates transportation committee the same thing Tuesday morning, according to Delegate Scott Taylor (R-Virginia Beach).

"I have been very clear that I support Virginia's aggressive approach to public private partnerships on major road and transit construction projects. But in the cases where tolling is necessary, we must ensure that they are fair and equitable and make sense from a business standpoint," McAuliffe said in an address to the General Assembly. "The tolls on the Midtown Tunnel Project do not meet this test – they are too high and place too great a burden on commuters who have to use that route to get to work and get home each day."

Governor McAuliffe is set to address the Commonwealth Transportation Board at 1 p.m. Wednesday, according to board member W. Sheppard Miller of Virginia Beach.  

The board meeting begins at 10 a.m. in Richmond.  During the workshop session, members will be receive a briefing called Status of EZ-Pass Issuance in Hampton Roads by David Caudill with the Virginia Department of Transportation.  

Under a comprehensive agreement, VDOT will maintain ownership of the infrastructure and oversee Elizabeth River Crossing' activities. ERC will finance, and build the facilities, then operate and maintain them for a 58-year concession period.

Tolls will help the public-private partnership to upgrade the Downtown Tunnel, build a second Midtown Tunnel and extending the Martin Luther King Freeway in Portsmouth.

Right now, tolls for cars during off-peak hours are set at $1.59 each way and $1.84 during peak hours.

Using those rates and a lot of other information, Economics professor and President Emeritus of Old Dominion University, Dr. James Koch, studied the impact tolls would have on Hampton Roads cities. He concluded Portsmouth was most sensitive to the tolls.

Koch found that there will be economic consequences connected to the tolls for several years. For Portsmouth, those consequences seem to outweigh the benefits associated with the Downtown Tunnel, Midtown Tunnel, and Martin Luther King Freeway Extension projects.

During a presentation to Portsmouth City Council Tuesday, Koch also said that restaurants and businesses in the city that have regional clients will bear the brunt of the negative effects. That, in turn, will affect tax collections.

For a 1% drop in taxable sales, for example, Portsmouth stands to lose $6 million a year.

"A lot of our customers come from Norfolk, and Virginia Beach, and they'll be impacted, and, ultimately, we'll be impacted," furniture store owner Peter Crockin told 13News Now. "The tolls are just outrageous, and whatever Governor McAuliffe can do, we applaud that, but McDonnell and his crew just wanted to get this thing done, and they didn't care who it hurt," said Crockin.

VDOT Commissioner Greg Whirley has retired and Charlie Kilpatrick was appointed by Governor Mcauliffe to fill the position. 

Greg Whirley was named transportation commissioner by Gov. Bob McDonnell in July 2010.

Charles Kilpatrick served previously as the Chief Deputy Commissioner of the Virginia Department of Transportation.

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