RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) - In Richmond today, the Senate Finance Committee passed Sen. Louise Lucas's amendment to delay tolls until January 2014.
The amendment must still pass the Virginia House of Delegates.
If passed, the state may have to pay for the project through bonds that could cost between $70 and $100 million.
"I was sitting there holding my breath because the discussion carried down the podium. I was counting the votes," Lucas said. "As it turned out, it was successful. I almost fainted!"
Lucas said this is a "big, big win for Hampton Roads," especially the areas of Portsmouth and Norfolk.
She told the Committee, "The tolls were suppose to be going up this fall...we will have to pay in Portsmouth and Norfolk three or four years before there is any improvements."
The philosophy won over Republicans like Sen. John Watkins.
"...I'm voting for it because I want to send a message to the Executive Branch to show leadership," Watkins said, referring to Governor Bob McDonnell, who entered into the Public-Private Partnership.
The senators on the committee think it's bad to implement tolls before any work is done
Sen. Lucas submitted the 60-word budget amendment on March 21.
"This will give us time to have the governor revisit this contract. It is very flawed," Lucas added. "The State will pay the tab on tolls. We need leadership to come up with a sustained stream of revenue to pay for roads...an increase in the State Sales Tax or the Gasoline tax."
Lucas hopes the heavily criticized deal between VDOT and the Elizabeth River Crossings Partners can be reworked or killed.
Senator Tommy Norment thinks the decision to delay is awful, as the state would have to pay more when the current deal allows the Commonwealth to pay less.
"To come out with a $70-$100 million toll abatement deal when a contract was already signed, localities agreed, and now we want to change the deal. [It's] no way to govern," Norment said.
Norment added the vote to delay isn't fair to all those who pay tolls now.
"I love the people of Portsmouth and Norfolk, but are they better than my fine friends on the Eastern Shore who spend $20 to go to school across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, or my fine friends on the Middle Peninsula who have to pay to go across the Coleman Bridge? They are not better."
Governor Bob McDonnell sent this statement through Spokesman Jeff Caldwell:
"Any decisions regarding the date of the initiation of collecting tolls from the public will be made within the context of those discussions...with the General Assembly...and in collaboration with the Commonwealth's private-sector partner."
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