Tolls commercial sparks negative feedback

WAVY/Aaron Kurtz
WAVY/Aaron Kurtz

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A woman pumping air into a blow-up raft and struggling with it to cross the Elizabeth River and avoid tolls — that’s the scene Elizabeth River Crossings uses to advertise the use of the E-ZPass to deal with the upcoming tunnel tolls.

“I felt disgust,” said Portsmouth resident and businessman Charles Greenhood about the ERC commercial. “They are being snarky, and they don’t care.”

The “Many Ways to Cross” commercial uses the tagline, “There are many ways to cross, but the easiest and cheapest way is E-ZPass.” But for some, there is no easy or cheap way to deal with the tolls, and the ERC commercial doesn’t help.

“‘Snarky’ is a perfect description of how they have handled the entire situation, in terms of their public relations,” said Anti-Toll organizer Terry Danaher. “It makes fun of something that is for us a serious situation.”

Danaher and Greenhood accuse ERC of being tone deaf, and making fun of a serious dilemma facing tens of thousands of people, beginning February 1 when the tolls begin at the Downtown and Midtown tunnels.

LINK: WAVY.com’s tunnel tolls coverage

ERC refused an on-camera interview with WAVY.com to answer any questions about the commercials, including the amount of money spent to air them. They do say the commercial was chosen by focus groups representing residents from Portsmouth and Norfolk.

ERC Spokesperson Leila Rice emailed us: ” ‘Many Ways to Cross’ was overwhelmingly chosen as the preferred concept by both groups and was then produced to what is currently airing.”

The Cushna family was not asked to be part of a focus group and say tolls will cost them $2,400 a year.

“They are making a joke out of something that is going to impact us and will hurt the families, and hurt the small businesses, and hurt the non- profits, and they think it is a joke,” said Portsmouth resident Chris Cushna.

But ERC’s Rice insists, “Overall the response to this ad has been positive. Our goal with the ad was to demonstrate that E-ZPass is the easiest, and least expensive way to cross.”

Critics of the ERC-VDOT deal point out there are no reasonable options to get from Portsmouth to Norfolk other than the Downtown and Midtown tunnels, and beginning February 1, they both will be tolled.

“I don’t like this ad … there are not many ways to cross like the ad says … it is insulting. You can’t get in an inflatable raft. It’s not realistic,” Greenhood said. “There are no other ways to cross. Now they are just poking fun at us. They are adding insult to injury.”

Greenhood says the ads communicate this message: “We’re going to be screwing you all for the next 58 years, and this is just the beginning.”

“They should pull the ads and apologize to the people of Hampton Roads,” Greenhood said.

Cushna’s son Logan will be 61 years old when the tolls are taken down, and Logan’s sister, Anya, will be 59.

“This is going to effect our family,” Cusha said. “It will have a negative impact on our budget and our funds.”

To protest the tolls, Anti-Toll supporters will gather at the High Street Landing at the end of High Street by the water in Portsmouth on Saturday at noon. They will put rafts in the water and hold a floating protest of the tolls and the commercial that suggests a raft is a possible way to get across the Elizabeth River to go to work.

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