Children’s museum sees 14k fewer visitors after tolls

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) – The Children’s Museum of Virginia is reporting a 10 percent attendance falloff compared to last year. 10 On Your Side’s investigation has shown that the decline is coming from fewer local people driving to the exhibits, which in turn points to several potential factors including the 9-month-old tolls.

Looking back, the 34-year-old museum had about 141,000 visitors from Jan. to Sept. 2013. A year later, with tolls on the tunnels, around 126,000 people visited the building in downtown Portsmouth. That 10 percent drop has Nancy Perry, the museum’s director, worried.

“It is a perfect storm because you have the tolls, and then you have the tunnel closures, and you have road construction, and utility worker downtown so there are a lot of factors,” said Perry.

Fewer visitors can’t be tied exclusively to newly instated tolls, but the museum gathers its data by asking everyone to share their zip codes. We found that Norfolk zip codes dipped by 2,600 since the tolls, and Virginia Beach numbers lowered by 3,500.

Some residents told WAVY.com the tolls don’t matter to them, though.

“If I did it every day, maybe I would have some concern,” said Joan London, who traveled with her grandchildren from Virginia Beach. “But truthfully I come once in a while, and it’s not enough to stop me from coming to this fabulous museum.”

Norfolk resident Melissa Aguilera said paying an extra $4 is fine if it makes her son happy.

While the cost for paying to go in the tunnels could deter some from taking a trip to the museum, an Old Dominion economist points to a deeper potential issue within these tolls. Gary Wagner’s research shows the fee divides Hampton Roads. It discourages people to travel from one side of the area to the other.

Despite the drops in visitors for the museum, Perry is hoping for a turnaround in 2015. “Although there is focus on tunnels and tolls, there are so many good things happening,” she said. “We would like to see good things out there say it is worth it to come visit the museum.”

Although the zip codes in some of the seven cities have declined, Virginia Beach still remains the No. 1 city visitors are coming from followed by Chesapeake, Portsmouth and then Norfolk.

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