State, local leaders push for study that could pave the way for toll relief

Overlooking Midtown Tunnel exit.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — A study looking into the impact of tolling in Portsmouth and Norfolk could be the first step in persuading the Commonwealth to either buyout or buy down the tolls at the Midtown and Downtown tunnels.

The contract between the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and Elizabeth River Tunnels (ERT) expires in 2070. The 58-year deal includes annual toll increases at both tunnels.

“Imagine that every bridge from northern Virginia into Washington, D.C. is tolled? That’s what we have here,” said Portsmouth Mayor John Rowe. “They have the right to raise tolls without any oversight at all.”

Rowe and the city council voted Jan. 3 to approve a resolution asking state lawmakers to request a study on tolling.

On Jan. 10, House Joint Resolution No. 25 was introduced by Delegate Steve Heretick and suppported by delegates Matthew James, Jay Jones and David Reid. Senators Mamie Locke and Louise Lucas are co-sponsoring the request.

“It’s hurting businesses on both sides of the river. I think it’s affecting people’s decisions where they want to live,” said Heretick. “It’s really having the economic effect that a lot of us were very concerned about early on.”

Heretick, who represents areas of Portsmouth and Norfolk, says there’s three options: buying out the tolls, buying down the tolls to keep ERT from increasing rates or renegotiating the original deal.

“The citizens of Portsmouth and Norfolk who pay these tolls have also paid their taxes, and in most of the communities in the Commonwealth roads are provided without additional costs,” said Heretick.

The toll study is one of 21 requested studies so far this session by state lawmakers. The Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission (JLARC) tells WAVY.com about four or five studies will likely be selected.

“We should go to the top of the pile,” said Rowe. “I think it’s going to be proven that this is a detriment, an impediment to economic development in Hampton Roads.”

No timeline has been set for a vote on the resolution.

Stay with WAVY.com for updates.