Midtown and Downtown Tunnel tolls to increase January 1

An aerial view shows the Midtown Tunnel on May 31, 2016, ahead of the opening of a new lane. WAVY/Chopper 10
An aerial view shows the Midtown Tunnel on May 31, 2016, ahead of the opening of a new lane. WAVY/Chopper 10

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) – The new year will mean higher tolls for drivers who use the Midtown and Downtown Tunnels.

According to the Elizabeth River Tunnels (ERT) website, the rate drivers pay will go up January 1.

The toll will rise from $1.25 to $1.65 during off-peak driving hours. During peak hours, the passenger vehicle rate will jump from $1.50 to $1.95. People without an E-ZPass will pay even more.

“That’s a pretty huge chunk of money over time,” said Portsmouth resident Brad Bowen.

“I just think it’s ridiculous,” said resident Luvina Weatherspoon. “I just don’t get it.”

The dramatic increase is the result of a state deal coming to a close.

When tolling began in 2014, drivers were set to pay $1.84 during peak hours. But Governor Terry McAuliffe then agreed to “pay down” the tolls during the construction phase. With that ending, drivers will be back to the original rate, plus a permitted annual increase.

“With the contract [between Elizabeth River Crossings and VDOT], we are allowed to increase tolls by 3.5 percent or consumer price index, whichever one is greater,” said ERC Spokeswoman Leila Rice. “Keep in mind, we operate and maintain these facilities and we incur cost increases to maintain facilities. Tunnels are more expensive to maintain than open roadway.”

Rice said the company is “making an effort to help those who need assistance.”

She said that ERC pays HRT to enhance bus and ferry options for people to travel to and from Portsmouth toll-free.

Recently, the governor announced toll relief to give some locals a discount, depending on their income and the amount of trips they make through the tunnels.

10 On Your Side contacted Portsmouth Mayor-Elect John Rowe and Vice Mayor Elizabeth Psimas for comment on Tuesday, but they had not returned our calls as of the late evening hours Tuesday.

Aubrey Layne, Secretary of Transportation, said Tuesday that the contract between the state and ERC was made under a previous administration. He said his officials will continue to monitor the company’s performance.

Click here to view previous toll rates.