Transportation secretary lacks confidence in ERT for new tolls

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — More tolls are guaranteed for Hampton Roads. The question is: how many and when? 10 On Your Side sat down with Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne Friday, who raised concern about the tolls slated to start next spring at the MLK Expressway.

“I don’t have a lot of confidence,” Layne said. “We haven’t gotten it right yet, and we’re going to add another level of complexity.”

Layne referred to the billing troubles incurred with Elizabeth River Tunnels. 10 On Your Side has reported on problems of over billing, billing for trips not taken and late fees for people who never received a bill in the first place.

The MLK extension project will start new tolls next March, and by design, certain drivers will not have to pay.

“I’m concerned to make sure we get that right, because that was a negotiated part of the contract that you’re getting on and off in the city of Portsmouth, you shouldn’t have to pay a toll,” Layne said.

Layne assured 10 On Your Side the state will hold ERT accountable on this, as they have other issues. One exampel: If ERT doesn’t send you a bill within 60 days of your trip through a tunnel, you don’t have to pay.

“I can’t tell you if they’re actually getting better or if they’re not billing because they’re not meeting the criteria, but at least we’re protecting the people the best we can,” Layne said.

That, he said, includes future transportation deals as well. Layne insists projects like the High Rise Bridge expansion or improvements to the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel will require tolls. Unlike the Midtown/Downtown tunnel project, however, there will be no money taken until the work is done, and there will always be a free alternative, according to Layne.

“You can pay, if you want a quicker ride, but if you don’t, you have the same capacity you have in place now,” Layne said.

Lawmakers also made some changes this past session that Layne said will help ensure future transportation deals are in the public’s best interest. The law now requires the General Assembly to be involved in transportation deals and the secretary of transportation to reconfirm any contract before it’s signed.

WAVY.com reached out to ERT for response to the Secretary’s concerns. CEO Greg Woodsmall said, “We are going to meet our contractual requirements.”

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