Tunnel users look back, look forward where tolls are concerned

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by Joe Flanagan, 13News Now

WVEC.com

Posted on April 6, 2014 at 7:11 PM

Updated Sunday, Apr 6 at 7:20 PM

PORTSMOUTH -- Among the customers at The Coffee Shoppe on High Street Sunday was Kevin Morrison. Although he lives in Virginia Beach, he attends church in Portsmouth. Since February, the weekly trip to worship has come with a price.

"I don't necessarily disagree that we need a new tunnel.  I think there could have been a different way we could have done it.  I think this puts a disadvantage to a lot of people that may not be able to afford it and I think it's  going to have an impact on business down here in Portsmouth," Morrison said, referring to the tolls on the Downtown and Midtown Tunnels.

The fees are supposed to fund a number of road projects including the addition of a tube at the Midtown, rehabilitation of the existing tube as well as the Downtown Tunnel, and extension of the Martin Luther King Expressway.

The biggest problem for a lot of people involves the contract through which the tolls were added. That agreement was put together under former governor Bob McDonnell's administration. The specifics were worked out between the Department of Transportation and Elizabeth River Crossings which is overseeing the work and administers the tolls.

Brutti's restaurant owner/operator Charles Greenhood has been at the forefront of the fight against tolls.

"I haven't softened my take on the fairness aspect. It's totally unfair, we're still working very hard to have the contract reversed or cancelled or whatever can be done to eliminate the tolls," said Greenhood.

Drivers with an E-ZPass transponder pay $1 to cross the Elizabeth River during peak hours. The off-peak rate is $.75. People without transponders pay higher fees.

The current rates were made possible after Governor Terry McAuliffe, McDonnell's successor, made lowering the fees a priority. As a result, the Commonwealth of Virginia is subsidizing or buying down the tolls during the initial part of fee collection.

Hostess Tiffany Gregory lives in Portsmouth but travels to Norfolk State University each day.

"I'm kind of indifferent about it. I was a little nervous about it at first, but I am going to wait and see what comes out of it, 'cause if it is going to be beneficial, then I don't mind, but if it's not, then I think they should lower it," Gregory said.

Greenhood expects McAuliffe to continue working on making tolls more reasonable than initially proposed.

"He did something he promised me two years ago when we had a meet and greet here for him, promised he would do whatever he could to mitigate the tunnel tolls if they should ever happen.  First day in office, he did it, cut them in half.  There's more to come," Greenhood told 13News Now.

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