Lives changed after 9 months of tolls

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Since our investigation into the rising cost of tunnel tolls, 10 On Your Side has received much feedback from drivers who say they avoid the Downtown and Midtown tunnels, as much as possible.

A local economist said the tolls that began in February are already damaging the Hampton Roads community. So, what happens when the price goes up even more? The higher the tolls go, the more fractured, less desirable our community becomes.

Dr. Gary Wagner, an ODU professor of economics, co-wrote the “State of the Region Hampton Roads 2014,” wherein he says the tolls will divide us.

“We could have a Southside separated from west Hampton Roads, separated from where Suffolk, Portsmouth and Chesapeake are,” Wagner said. “It would be a lot more isolated, and I do not think that would be a good thing for our future.”

Right now, Hampton Roads is an independent region, where about 60 percent of the workforce lives in one city, but works in another. But tolls are changing that. For example, many commentors on WAVY’s Facebook page say they are actually moving to the same side of the tunnel as where they work.

On WAVY’s Facebook page, Anthony wrote, “I have been affected by the tolls. I work two jobs just to make sure I can afford to go to work.”

Stephanie wrote, “that’s what we had to do. We lived in Suffolk, and three days before tolls hit, we found a house in Virginia Beach and moved.”

By the year 2070, tunnel tolls could be as much as $21. Right now, tolls are just beginning at $1 each way during peak, and 75 cents non-peak, and already folks on Facebook say they’ve seen enough.

“It absolutely will damage our community, and it will make us much less competitive, relative to other metropolitan areas in the Commonwealth and the eastern seaboard,” Wagner said.

“Several months my E-ZPass bill was higher than my electric bill! Well over $200,” Beth wrote on Facebook. “I love my home and neighborhood, but it looks like moving out of Portsmouth may be in my near future.”

Allison added her thoughts too: “We moved out of Portsmouth because of the toll. We can’t afford going through six times a day. Tolls move people away.”

Portsmouth resident and toll opponent Terry Danaher actually pays more to go over the Jordan Bridge than to give ERC one penny to go across the Downtown or Midtown tunnels. “It makes me feel good to not give anything to this private profiteer that is just killing our region,” she said.

Danaher said her Leisure trips across the Elizabeth River have stopped, and many write the same on our Facebook Page.

L Jay Bird writes, “have not been shopping in Olde Towne since tolls, been wanting to take grandkids to children’s museum … Richmond screwing us … sours me to using the tunnels.”

Danaher told us, “we don’t go to the beach for fun anymore, we use to shop regularly in Norfolk, and go to restaurants. We don’t do that anymore.”

On Facebook, Carolyn writes, “I eat out a lot and go to many concerts. Since the toll … I have not been to Portsmouth and have no plans … to go over there. I’ll just spend my money in Virginia Beach and Norfolk.”

Scott on Facebook wrote, “I live in Smithfield & used to love going to Norfolk/Va. Beach/ Chesapeake for outings & dinners. But I refuse to pay tolls!”

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