The toll of tunnel tolls on a Chesapeake trucking company

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Toll hikes at the Downtown and Midtown tunnels are coming in January, and 10 On Your Side is looking into the impact it will have on truckers, and by extension, the local economy.

Truckers who travel through the Downtown Tunnel pay $4 during peak traffic hours and $2.25 during non-peak hours.

At Puryear Trucking in Chesapeake, owner Randy Menefee has learned how to work smarter to give less tolls to ERC: “Some of it has to do with changing routes and schedules, and most of it has to do with not doing as much work on the other side of the tunnel. We just don’t make that many trips over there anymore,” he told WAVY.com.

When tolls were first announced, Menefee feared the worst. He thought he would pay $50,000 to $70,000 a year in tolls. But nine months later, he’s only put up about $5,000.

“It’s not like we were doing it wrong before, but when you add the toll in there, it makes you rethink things … and be more creative,” he said.

The Elizabeth River Crossings-Virginia Department of Transportation contract contract calls for yearly truck toll increases of 3.5 percent or the rate of the Consumer Price Index, whichever is greater. That means the toll for trucks will be between $47.17 and $86.24 by the year 2070.

ODU Economist Dr. Gary Wagner co-authored “The State of the Region Hampton Roads 2014.” He said  those numbers make it easy to see how tolls will inhibit economic activity in Hampton Roads.

“You are going to make it an area that is less desirable, an area less competitive … it is going to grow more slowly, and the problems we have with the Department of Defense shrinking, it certainly is not a good prescription,” he said.

As for the future, the tolling reality check for Menefee is this: more new roads mean more new tolls.

“What we are planning for are more tolls in more places … every new construction that is planned is going to have a toll on it,” he said.

Other ways the tolls have impacted Menefee’s Chesapeake business: He has lost some workers who lived in Norfolk and had to come through the tolls, but he’s gained workers from the Portsmouth side, who don’t have to go through the tolls.

Dr. Wagner said that is exactly what tolls are doing — dividing Hampton Roads. Those on one side of a toll will work on the same side, limiting travel to the other side of the toll.

“We could have a Southside separated from west Hampton Roads … Suffolk, Portsmouth, and Chesapeake would be a lot more isolated, and I don’t think that would be a good thing for our future,” Wagner said.

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