Toll drop applauded, concerns remain

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by Brian Farrell, 13News Now

WVEC.com

Posted on January 16, 2014 at 12:41 AM

Updated Thursday, Jan 16 at 1:56 PM

PORTSMOUTH -- With the full support of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, Governor Terry McAuliffe's push to cut tolls at the Midtown and Downtown Tunnels passed Wednesday.

Instead of approaching the $2 mark during peak hours when tolling starts February 1, the rate will be $1 while construction takes place. During off-peak hours, the amount to cross the Elizabeth River will be 75 cents. Those rates apply to drivers who have EZ-Pass transponders.

"I'm a full-time student. I'm trying to make something of myself, and now, this is pretty much turning my life around," said Emily Fraser. "A toll's a toll. Even if they reduce it, I'm not happy about it at all."

"We're broke. We can't afford to pay the tolls back and forth," Shereece Jessup told 13News Now. "Going back between these tolls is money, money, money out of my pocket."

McAuliffe referred to price drop as a "first step" in trying to take burden off people who use the tunnels. The state, essentially, is buying down the tolls, paying $82.5 million during start-up to meet contractual obligations of a deal with Elizabeth River Crossing. The contract was signed during the McDonnell Administration.

"To be able to make this type of aggressive move, I applaud it, but, again, we've still got a huge hurdle to climb," said Portsmouth Mayor Kenny Wright. "There are cities like Portsmouth all over the country looking at these types of deals, because they're coming to a city near you, and so, we've got to make sure again that this thing is equitable."

"It's gonna help a little bit, a little bit, but at the same time, too, it's still a toll on a facility that we feel like, you know, the citizens have paid for," Olde Towne Business Association President Tony Goodwin.

"We have a toll reduction. It's gonna help improve the chances of businesses not to incur injury," Brutti's owner Charles Greenhood stated. "I'm delighted. I'm actually very excited that this is the beginning of a new chapter in fighting these tolls."

Tolls for tractor-trailer trucks will be reduced in a similar manner. The off-peak rate will be $2.25 beginning Feb. 1, and the peak-hour rate will be $4.

Meantime, Elizabeth River Tunnels has extended its "5 Free Trips" E-ZPass offer until Jan. 31, the day before toll collection begins.

Bryan Stephens, President and CEO of the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, has released the following statement:

“The toll reduction Governor McAuliffe announced impacting the Downtown and Midtown tunnels is a welcome relief for the business community and commuters of Hampton Roads.  Transportation remains a critical priority for businesses in Hampton Roads and the Chamber supports transportation revenue streams that are broad-based, long-term and maintain a favorable business climate and quality of life.  The Chamber commends the efforts of Governor McAuliffe, the Secretary of Transportation and the Commonwealth Transportation Board.”

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