PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The snow will not delay the tunnel tolls. They’re coming Saturday, like it or not. But now, the list of who won’t have to pay them has grown.
In the Virginia State Code, there is a list of people who don’t have to pay any tolls, including the ones that begin Saturday at the Downtown and Midtown tunnels.
Governor Terry McAuliffe addressed the list after WAVY’s report about Elizabeth River Crossings’ employees not having to pay tolls. He said some very important first responders are missing from the list, and a local State Senator is calling out ERC for collecting tolls from them, but giving a free pass to their own employees.
“It is a very bad contract, poorly written, poorly negotiated, and we are stuck with it for 58 years,” said Norfolk State Senator Kenny Alexander.
Alexander is already livid with the tunnel deal that brings tolls on Saturday, but he was really upset when he heard Elizabeth River Crossings workers are exempt from the tolls on their way to and from work. ERC Spokesperson Leila Rice told WAVY.com on January 6, “ERC is a private company, and all private companies have the right to provide that perk. It is part of our compensation package.”
Sen. Alexander thinks ERC is tone deaf and said in amazement, “For their spokesperson to call it a perk, for their spokesperson to call it a benefit or part of their compensation package, and we are being faced with this onerous toll for 58 years?”
Alexander disagrees with current State Code that gives free passage to people who he says don’t deserve it. He does not think the following should get free passage: the Commissioner of Highways, members of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, employees of the Department of Transportation, the commissioner and employees of the Department of Motor Vehicles, and officers and employees of the State Police when on their way to and from work. Alexander thinks State Police — while on duty and in state vehicles — should not pay a toll, nor should the superintendent of the Department of State Police or sheriffs and deputy sheriffs.
But Alexander wondered: Where are local emergency responders and police? Why don’t they get a free pass?
“The Governor saw what I was doing and was actually made aware of it through your reporting, and he decided to issue an executive order last week,” Alexander said.
So on January 22, Governor McAuliffe announced the ERC Comprehensive Agreement will be amended to also include free passage to the following:
- Local police officers
- Firefighting equipment vehicles
- Commuter buses
- School buses
ERC has posted what is now Amendment number 4 on their website, but Section E and F remain that ERC employees and sub-contractors get a free pass to and from work.
Alexander accepts the contractors, but he disagrees with ERC employees getting a pass. He’s skeptical about well that “perk” will be internally monitored and how ERC will regulate itself.
“It’s not going to happen,” he said. “It is very difficult to audit, to regulate, to police yourself.”
ERC insists that internal audits and oversight will prevent any abuse of that free passage to and from work from making trips to the mall on weekends.
Senator Alexander hopes in the future Virginia will continue to find more funds to pay down the tolls. So far, Virginia has put in almost $200 million towards paying down tolls.