They marched up to the Portsmouth Circuit Court House Thursday with a large group to file a lawsuit in a show of solidarity against the coming tolls at the Downtown and Midtown Tunnels.
"It's a little frustrating to see your economy being drained locally to profit private industry," said Terry Danahur, one of more than 100 plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The basis of the legal argument is simple: It claims the public-private partnership that gave Elizabeth River Crossings the right to toll is against state law and completely unconstitutional under the federal due process clause.
"VDOT does not have the right to set it themselves and neither does ERC. It's a private company, and only the legislature has the power to tax," said Danahur.
The lawsuit says over and over again the toll is really a tax because drivers will have to pay it before they even reap the benefits.
They claim tolls are meant to be user fees, but since this toll is being used to actually generate revenue for future projects, it’s a tax.
"When you have a public-private partnership, what tends to be public is the cost and what tends to be private are the profits, and if we are going to enter into these agreements, we need to make sure the public benefits," said Danahur.
We contacted Governor Bob McDonnell's office for a response after the lawsuit was filed and his press secretary sent this statement instead, from VDOT Commissioner Greg Whirley:
"The region has endorsed the Downtown Tunnel/Midtown Tunnel/MLK Extension Project as the top transportation priority repeatedly over the past decade. The project, which will make improvements that are critical to the mobility, safety and economy of the region, was developed with significant public input and in accordance with applicable law. VDOT will coordinate with the Office of the Attorney General and respond to the lawsuit as appropriate.”
The state still plans to transfer control of operation centers for both tunnels to Elizabeth River Crossings.
The company says the project still will continue according to their contract.