UPDATE: The budget amendment passed both the House of Delegates and Virginia State Senate on Wednesday.
RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Hundreds of thousands of drivers could possibly see some relief at the Downtown tunnel and the Midtown tunnel thanks to new legislation in the General Assembly.
Gov. Ralph Northam wants the Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine to look into possible changes to help commuters pay for the tolls to Elizabeth River Tunnels.
“L. The Secretary of Transportation (Secretary) shall evaluate potential opportunities to mitigate the financial burden on the commuting public at the (i) Downtown Tunnel and (ii) Midtown Tunnel. The Secretary shall report to the Governor, the House and Senate Committees on Transportation, the House Committee on Appropriations, and the Senate Committee on Finance on its findings no later than June 30, 2020.”
It would require the state Secretary of Transportation to look at opportunities to “mitigate the financial burden on the commuting public at the Downtown Tunnel and Midtown Tunnel.”
The amendment calls for Valentine to report to the Northam and other lawmakers by June 30 of 2020.
Delegate Steven Heretick, of Portsmouth, has tried to pass similar legislation for four years. He told WAVY.com, ” This is a major step in the right direction for Hampton Roads and I think it will be a huge move forward in how we address the tolls in the Downtown and Midtown tunnels.”
Portsmouth business owner and activist, Tony Goodwin, does not necessarily share Heretick’s enthusiasm. ” A study is a study. It’s more lip service that I feel like is just basically carrying on the process,” he said. “If you want to do a study lets do the real study the economic impact study where it’s almost categorized as a as almost a natural disaster.”
Tunnel tolls have been a controversial issue in Hampton Roads over the last 5 years, after the state inked a public-private partnership with ERC to last for 50 years.
In 2016, then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced a “first of its kind” relief program designed to help drivers who use the Downtown and Midtown tunnels a certain number of times every month.
Toll rates go up every year, and right now, the plate-by-plate toll rate is more than $5.
10 On Your Side will keep track of this legislation and let you know how lawmakers vote on it.