Virginia changes toll agreement on Midtown Tunnel

Governor Terry McAuliffe persuaded the project’s private contractor to remove tolls from the MLK Freeway extension and to contribute financially to a toll assistance programme.

No tolls will be collected on the Martin Luther King (MLK) Freeway extension once it opens in December 2016, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe said, referring to a portion of the Elizabeth River Crossings project, a $2.1 billion project the state is procuring as a public-private partnership (PPP; P3).

The state will instead transfer $78 million it had set aside for US Route 460, a project Virginia had originally planned to procure as a P3, but which is now being reconsidered both in terms of scope and delivery method.

In addition to removing tolls from the MLK Extension, the private sector partner – ERC (Elizabeth River Crossings LLC) teaming Macquarie and Skanska – also agreed to pay $5 million over a period of 10 years to a fund that will be established to offset the cost of tolls on those residents who are severely impacted due to financial, medical or other circumstances.

The fund will be established once the tunnels are completed in January 2017. The criteria for qualifying for the programme have not yet been defined a VDOT spokesperson said.

“After a great deal of work, we now have a plan in place to ease the financial pressure of tolling, particularly for Portsmouth residents,” McAuliffe said. “The Elizabeth River Tunnels project must be built to reduce congestion, increase safety and improve the economy. This is the right project, but a bad deal reached under the prior administration,” he added.

In February 2014, McAuliffe reached a prior agreement with ERC, which allowed the state to reduce the initial tolls previously agreed on the Midtown/Downton Tunnels. At the time, McAuliffe had said the reduction, which was temporary – tolls would increase gradually to the initially agreed rates in 2017 – would cost the commonwealth $82.5 million, which Virginia would fund through a combination of bonds and other funds that had not been allocated to specific transportation projects.

The current agreement also caps toll violation-related fines at $2,200. This “means motorists making a first appearance in court for unpaid final notices will pay no more than $2,200 in administrative fees and civil penalties, regardless of the number of transactions,” ERC said in a separate statement.

The East River Crossings project, which connects Portsmouth to Norfolk, includes building a second Midtown Tunnel, rehabilitating the existing Midtown and Downtown tunnels, and extending Martin Luther King Boulevard from London Boulevard to Interstate 264.

Photo courtesy of VDOT.