Councilman pleads for cash lane at tunnel tolls

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – Councilman Paul Riddick has written a letter to Gov. Terry McAuliffe detailing his concerns over cash not being accepted at the tolls on the Downtown and Midtown tunnels.

Riddick represents Ward 4 in Norfolk. The letter was penned Jan. 23, about a week before tolls were set to begin.

“I strongly believe that implementation of all-electronic tolling is short-sighted in that it presents no point-of-service payment option at the time of travel,” Riddick says in the letter.

Document: Full letter from Councilman Riddick (.pdf)

The only option for those without an E-ZPass is pay-by-plate, which charges motorists a rate 200 percent higher than the rate of someone with an E-ZPass. The councilman argues that isn’t fair to any motorist who feels the initial fee of $35 for a transponder is impractical, especially motorists who don’t frequent either tunnel.

“You can travel from Florida to Maine, and every toll booth you go through there’s going to be a cash lane,” Riddick told WAVY.com on Monday. “This toll is supposed to last for 52 years. So for 52 years, you’re going to have people who don’t have a transponder paying 200 percent more.”

Special Coverage: Tunnel Tolls on WAVY.com

Riddick’s letter specifically makes mention of the kinds of drivers who would have to use the tunnels, but on an infrequent basis.

“What about the hundreds of veterans and active-duty military personnel who infrequently, but necessarily, visit Portsmouth Naval Hospital? Or the spouses of military personnel who take sick children to the facility? What about vehicles traveling in funeral processions from Norfolk/Virginia Beach to the Albert G. Horton, Jr. Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Suffolk to inter veterans?”

As the owner of a funeral home, Riddick told WAVY.com that with a cash lane, the person driving the lead car of a funeral procession could tell the attendant that the last car would pay for every car in the procession. Without one, each plate without a transponder would get hit with an extra toll charge for following the line through the tunnels to pay their respects.

“I had a funeral the other day, and I just took I-464 to I-64, and I think that’s what a lot of directors are going to do, that’s what I plan to do,” he said.

Riddick also mentioned those driving rental vehicles that wouldn’t have the transponder: “If the invoice is forwarded to the driver of a rental vehicle by a car rental company, the driver will probably be subject to the application of increasing late fees upon receipt.”

Riddick blames the fact there is no cash lane on the previous governor and transportation director of Virginia, but now he feels he has a Governor who will listen. He says he knows there would be a cost to make the change, but in the long run, it would be worth it.

“A redesign of the Elizabeth River Tunnels E-ZPass system to include a cash lane would require additional resources, but it would be well worth it to thousands of residents in our region as well as travelers,” read part of Riddick’s letter. “Just as you helped by reducing toll rates, I and many others in the region would appreciate it if you would begin discussions with our Secretary of Transportation and regional General Assembly members about installing cash lanes at both crossings.”

Some WAVY viewers voiced concerns on our Facebook page about the traffic congestion cash lanes would cause at the tunnels, but Riddick said he doesn’t think that would be a problem.

So far, Riddick hasn’t heard anything back from the Governor about his letter, but you can count on WAVY.com to keep checking on it.

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