Virginia to halve Midtown Tunnel toll rates

Effective Feb 1, the reduced rates will rise gradually through 2017 or upon substantial completion of the project to reach initially agreed upon levels.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe will reduce initial tolls on the Midtown/Downtown Tunnels which had been agreed upon between the state’s department of transportation (VDOT) and the private sector partner, Elizabeth River Crossings (ERC), with respect to the $2.1 billion public-private partnership (PPP; P3) project.

The reduced rates will take effect February 1, but will increase gradually so that they reach the initially agreed rates in 2017.

“Implementing the toll revision plan will cost the Commonwealth $82.5 million,” according to the statement issued by the Governor’s office on Wednesday. “This will come from a combination of bonds and other funds that have not been assigned to specific transportation projects.”

From February 1 through to the end of 2014, passenger vehicles will pay an off-peak rate of $0.75, down from $1.59. The peak-hour toll rate will be $1.00 instead of $1.84. After that, each rate will increase by $0.25 in 2015 and 2016.

Reducing the tolls was one of the promises McAuliffe, a Democrat, had made to his constituents before being sworn into office on January 11.

“I immediately directed Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne to take the lead on reducing the tolls so they would lessen the financial burden on commuters and businesses who use the tunnels every day,” he said, while at the same time underlining his commitment to the importance of the project.

“This is a critical project that must be built to reduce congestion, improve safety and propel economic opportunities for the region,” he said. “But we must execute it in a way that does not threaten business growth in the region or lessen the quality of life for Hampton Roads’ residents and our workforce,” he added.

The issue of tolling in connection with the project had attracted attention last May when the Portsmouth Circuit Court decided that charging tolls on an existing facility to build a new one was the equivalent of taxation, something VDOT was not authorised to do and was therefore unconstitutional.

In October of last year, Virginia’s State Supreme Court overturned that decision, allowing the project to move forward.

The $2.1 billion 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.

Photo courtesy of VDOT.