McAuliffe pushes against E-ZPass maintenance fees

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Governor Terry McAuliffe ran for office promising to find ways to lower the tolls on the Downtown and Midtown tunnels, and he may have found yet another way to do it.

Everyone who gets an E-ZPass in Virginia must now pay 50 cents a month for maintenance of the E-ZPass system, but those fees — which will start showing up this month — will likely be gone in September.

It’s news to anti-toll organizer Terry Danaher: “Wow, that is the E-ZPass fee … gone.”

The McAuliffe Administration teamed up with State Senator John Miller (D) Newport News for a legislative bill to do away with the monthly maintenance fee, as of September 1.

“I don’t believe people ought to be forced to get an E-ZPass just because the toll facility can’t accept cash,” Senator Miller told WAVY.com.

Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne said the fee is wrong: “It is not right to charge people another fee to pay for a fee.”

Secretary Layne, who is from Hampton Roads, has been instrumental in working with Governor McAuliffe to find a “new” way to move forward with the tunnel tolls. Layne said it’s not fair, and not good public policy.

Secretary Layne also said VDOT will no longer be in charge of E-ZPass. It will likely be handed over to the DMV.

“DMV is just set up better to handle that type of transaction,” Layne said. “There are many more locations across the Commonwealth where that can be handled.”

Secretary Layne also pointed out, dropping the fee will be for all E-ZPasses in Virginia. For the 101,346 E-ZPasses issued in Hampton Roads, that will be a savings of $608,076 a year. Layne said VDOT or DMV will likely make up for the E-ZPass maintenance fee, but it won’t be motorists.

Drivers have to deposit $35 to get an E-ZPass, which gives them credit towards tolls.

“They make a lot of money on that money, and they were losing that for 50 cents a month,” Danaher said.

Many states don’t charge maintenance fees, so thousands like Danaher got their E-ZPass from states like Massachusetts. Yes, the top organizer of the anti-toll movement has an E-ZPass.

“Others of us bit the bullet and use it on the Jordan Bridge. It is the only place we use it,” Danaher said.

The South Norfolk Jordan Bridge costs $1.50 each way. The Downtown and Midtown tunnels are only 75 cents non-peak, and $1.00 peak. Why would you pay more on the Jordan?

“I am willing to spend the money on the view, and I am willing to spend the money that keeps it out of ERC’s pockets, and for me, that’s what it is all about,” Danaher said.

ERC stands for Elizabeth River Crossings, which operates the tolls and is building the Midtown Tunnel project, including the Martin Luther King Extension and Downtown Tunnel refurbishment.

By the way, if you don’t have an E-ZPass and you don’t pay your tolls, according to State Code (46.2-819.3:1) the Department of Motor Vehicles can refuse to issue or renew your vehicle registration and state tags. You can appeal, but here’s the bottom line — it’ll cost a lot of money in penalties and fees and even more if you go to court to appeal. This is another major reason for DMV to be in the process of handling the E-ZPasses.

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