ERC sees traffic drop 25 percent at tunnels

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – After the first weekday of tolls at the Downtown and Midtown tunnels, about 25 percent fewer drivers traveled through the tunnels Monday.

Leila Rice with Elizabeth River Crossings said the total number of vehicles using both tunnels on the first weekday of tolling was 96,644 – which is about 25 percent lower than usual traffic before the tolls.

That missing 25 percent is referred to as “diversion traffic,” meaning those drivers chose alternate routes or reduced trips through the tolled routes. Rice said this is common with toll projects, and ERC expects traffic to slowly return.

Chesapeake resident Nikko Knapp is the perfect example of diversion traffic. She has tried not using the tunnels, but hasn’t found a permanent alternative route.

“I am going to experience [the tolls] today for the first time,” Knapp said. “I’ve been looking for new routes to avoid bridges and tunnels.”

According to Elizabeth River Crossings, more than 60 percent of trips taken in the tunnels Monday were made by vehicles with E-ZPass transponders.

VDOT reports 20,057 E-ZPasses have been purchased in Hampton Roads since Thursday, which is 21 percent of the total 96,723 transponders purchased since November 1.

“We are very pleased with the E-ZPass distribution we have seen so far,” said ERC CEO Greg Woodsmall. “We continue to encourage all motorists using the Downtown and Midtown tunnels to obtain an E-ZPass, as it’s the least expensive way to travel through the Elizabeth River Tunnels.”

E-ZPass electronic accounts are starting to list deductions for going through the tolls, but the five free trips given to many to get the E-ZPass are likely not listed. On the electronic account it reads, “please allow 3 to 5 days for credits to post for free trip promotion.”

VDOT’s Karen Meyers told WAVY.com, “the timing of the promotional ending as it related to the beginning of the tolling at the Midtown and Downtown Tunnels did not allow time to reconcile the data that determined the transponders eligible for the promotion.”

Meyers gives this example: “if someone obtained an E-ZPass transponder at the Pit Stop this past Friday evening at 11:30 p.m., it wouldn’t be enough time to identify that transponder as being eligible for the promotion. That has all been processed and people should start seeing those reversals showing up on their account.”

VDOT said an E-ZPass placed in the tinted section of a windshield can disrupt the radio transmission between the transponder and the toll receptor.

With only two days into the first work week with tolls, commuter traffic is very heavy at the free alternatives to the tolled tunnels — the High Rise and Gilmerton bridges.

Alice Marzovilla has noticed less congestion at the tunnels with tolls.

“I love it.I love no congestion,” she said. “It gets terrible, and it will take you twice the time to get to work and the majority of the time is just getting through the tunnel.”

Marzovilla said reduced traffic at the tunnels has been a real positive to having the tolls.

Traffic experts think traffic will start flowing back to the tunnels if commuters get tired of the increased traffic at the free alternative routes.

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