PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Transportation planning officials expect tolls at the Downtown and Midtown tunnels to have an immediate impact on other Elizabeth River crossings.
Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization Director Dwight Farmer said he expects drivers will shift their habits to avoid paying the tolls.
“People will move to parallel free facilities,” he said. “We think the High Rise and Gilmerton will by far see the majority of that traffic that is diverted or changed because of the effect of the toll.”
In a September letter to VDOT, Farmer wrote, tunnel tolls “will add 35,000 vehicles per day to the High Rise Bridge, which is already carrying more vehicles than intended.” According to HRTPO documents, in 20 years, the bridge will be the “third highest source of truck delay in Hampton Roads.”
“The additional traffic will likely result in additional congestion, longer delays. I think what it will also do is underscore the need to replace the High Rise Bridge and to widen 64 on the Southside,” said Earl Sorey, Assistant Director of Public Works in Chesapeake.
Sorey said he isn’t sure yet what tolls will mean for Chesapeake. The bridge is more than 40 years old and Chesapeake City Council voted to support building a new one this month.
“Come February 1, we’re going to have empirical data to look at, so we’ll be working with our state and regional partners to get a handle on the traffic, to get a handle on the associated impacts, and to respond accordingly,” Sorey said.
Planning leaders said in 20 years, the High Rise Bridge truck delay per weekday will jump from about 140 hours to 720 hours, partly because of tunnel tolls. Right now, “the High Rise Bridge is at capacity during peak hours in the AM and PM,” according to VDOT spokesperson Marshall Herman, who said the peak hours may be extended because of a higher volume of traffic once tunnel tolls go into place.
Farmer said it’s possible there will eventually be tolls at the High Rise bridge to help pay for the multi-billion-dollar project for a new bridge.
Herman also provided the following statement:
VDOT will monitor and respond to the congestion at the High Rise Bridge, as we do with any congestion event. Necessary measures will be taken, including deploying additional Safety Service Patrol, having Hampton Roads Traffic Operations Center operators closely monitor all water crossings and placing congestion messages on overhead signage. Motorists are encouraged to call 511, visit www.511virginia.org or use Virginia’s free 511 mobile app for real-time information.