PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – Monday was the first regular business day with tolls on the Downtown and Midtown Tunnels, and VDOT says there was a 22-percent reduction in traffic at the Downtown Tunnel.
The Virginia Department of Transportation compared Monday’s traffic with traffic numbers from January 13, which was the last non-holiday Monday without tolls or inclement weather. The results are in, and they are stunning.
“We had a 22 percent reduction in traffic volumes at the Downtown Tunnel, comparing this day with Monday January 13,” said VDOT Regional Operations Director Dwayne Cook.
Between 5 a.m. and 9 a.m., 4,000 fewer cars traveled through the Downtown Tunnel. That is 1,000 fewer cars per hour. Instead, those drivers opted to use the free alternatives, but Cook said this is only one day of commuting.
“The initial changes in traffic driving patterns that you are going to observe won’t become permanent until people settle out,” he said.
There was a six-mile backup on the High Rise Bridge Monday, but VDOT said most of that was caused by incidents that closed down lanes. It was the Gilmerton Bridge that got the most significant increased of usage.
“We did see an increase at the Gilmerton Bridge of 57 percent,” Cook said. “Of those approximate 4,000 cars that did not use the Downtown Tunnel, 85 percent of them accounted for the increase at the Gilmerton.”
Cook gave possible reasons for the decrease at the Downtown Tunnel and increase at the Gilmerton and High Rise bridges.
“People may be changing their patterns, people may be canceling their trips, and where they finally settle out and adjust to a new commute pattern will take a couple of months for it to really illustrate itself,” he said.
The South Norfolk Jordan Bridge, which also has tolls, saw only a 2 percent increase in traffic Monday. However, the Jordan Bridge — with a $1.50 toll each way — saw an increase Saturday of 34 percent, and Sunday an increase of 52 percent.
WAVY.com called Elizabeth River Tunnels to get their data on traffic pattern changes, but Spokeswoman Leila Rice did not have the numbers, and did not get them during the day. ERC also has refused to let us look inside their control room or tell us how license plates are viewed for possible charges.
VDOT will have numbers for the Midtown Tunnel tomorrow.
After one weekend of tolls, local businesses do appear to be taking a hit. Super Bowl Sunday was not the same at Roger Brown’s Restaurant and Sports Bar.
“It was probably one of the slowest Super Bowl Sunday’s we’ve seen in a couple of years,” said Christina Keeling, who is in charge of marketing and banquets at Roger Brown’s. “It certainly was a possibility that tolls caused it … “
Sunday Brunch at Brutti’s wasn’t the same either.
“Sunday was the worst brunch that we have had here in 15 years,” said owner Charles Greenhood.
Brutti’s now offers a Toll Relief Coupon: “When folks come in for Sunday brunch and they purchase a brunch, we take off $2, which is the maximum they pay for the tolls,” Greenhood said.
But the restaurant scene isn’t the only one affected by tolls. Education isn’t the same for Brittany, who now has to pay $5 to $6 a week to get to class,
“As a student, it makes me not want to come to school out here when there is a campus right where I live, but this is the only art center,” she said. “It’s rough on us, and now you have to pay to cross.”
The battle against tolls continues with a boycott against using the tunnels, and the boycott may have legs because four thousand fewer cars used the tunnels.
“Persistence, and continuing to place pressure on the Secretary of Transportation, the Governor, the legislators, to look at the problem we are facing, and the whole Public-Private Transportation Act,” said Anti-Toll Organizer Terry Danaher.
Danaher and the Anti-Toll contingency has been successful at getting $112 million in additional state money to pay down tolls over 18 months until February 1, an additional $82 million in lowering the price of tolls for the next three years
The tolls at both the Downtown and Midtown Tunnel began Saturday, Feb. 1