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Hampton Roads leaders call for relief from tolling at Downtown and Midtown Tunnels

Downtown Tunnel rehabilitation project is complete
Posted at 3:18 PM, Nov 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-19 16:58:36-05

PORTSMOUTH, Va. - Hampton Roads leaders called on the state to continue to try and provide relief from tolling at the Downtown and Midtown Tunnels.

The Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization passed a resolution on Thursday calling on the state and the new owner of the operator of the tunnels to "develop solutions that benefit our region."

Tolling has led to a negative economic impact on the region, particularly Portsmouth, the leaders said. "We stand united in expressing our interest to continue to work with the Commonwealth of Virginia and the new owners on solutions to this problem," said Robert Crum, the executive director of the HRTPO.

The operator of the tolls, Elizabeth River Crossings, has a contract with the state that lasts for 50 more years. Under the terms, the tolls can be raised each year. "The impact of the tolling on the Downtown and Midtown Tunnels has cost not only the City of Portsmouth, but Norfolk, Suffolk, Isle of Wight - literally every locality in Hampton Roads - a great deal of time, money and opportunity," said Del. Steve Heretick, a member of HRTPO who represents parts of Portsmouth and Norfolk.

An economic study done by Old Dominion University in 2018 found the City of Portsmouth loses out on more than $8 million each year because of the tolls. "As those tolls increase over the next 50 years, it's only going to get worse," said Heretick.

For nearly the past two years, an HRTPO task force has been meeting to come up with ideas on how the state can help. Now, there could be a potential breakthrough as ERC has been sold to a Spanish tolling company and an investment management group. The Northam Administration has to approve the deal, which members of HRTPO hope will provide some leeway to change some aspects of the contract.

Related: $11 off-peak tolls could one day be possible at Midtown, Downtown Tunnels

Still though, Heretick does not believe it's practical to think the tolls will be eliminated. "What I would like to see as a practical matter is for the Commonwealth to find some funding mechanism to cap the tolls, so we're not going to have to pay more and more and more for the next 50 years," said Heretick.

HRTPO says this is important for the whole region. "[Tolling] is really going to build an economic barrier that's going to strangle Hampton Roads ability to work together as a cohesive whole," said Heretick. "It's going to siphon us."