PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Lower-income residents of Norfolk and Portsmouth can save hundreds of dollars a year commuting to work through the Downtown and Midtown tunnels under an expanded toll relief program with Elizabeth River Crossings.

Commuters who make less than $30,000 a year and who make five round trips to and from work each week will get a 50% discount, saving them up to about $650 per year, officials say.

Gov. Ralph Northam and other officials made the announcement on Monday in Portsmouth.

Watch the full press conference below

“This is a start. We know that we have more work to do,” Northam said about trying to expand relief to even more people going forward. The relief program was first started in 2016.

About 4,300 people will be eligible for the funding, up by more than double current levels.

The program targets people like Portsmouth resident Collista McPherson, who makes less than $30,000 a year and lives in Portsmouth.

“We are already paying taxes and just to drive my own car, it’s very expensive,” McPherson said.

Northam said the average driver will save up to $650 per year.

The changes are expected to start next year as Elizabeth River Crossings increases its toll relief budget to $3.2 million, up $2.7 million from the previous $500,000 per year set aside for the fund, officials say.

“This is our commitment to easing the financial burden that we know our tolls have on income restrained residents,” said Elizabeth River Crossings Chief Executive Officer David Sullivan. “We feel it’s our duty to connect them to relief that they can count on. This $2.7 million increase in toll reduction funding is the most significant commitment our company has ever made to the community. We’re excited to see how the program will improve and the impact it will have on those who need it most.” 

“Tolls go up with inflation and it erodes the benefits, so we made sure that didn’t happen,” Sullivan added.

The enrollment period begins December 1 and closes on February 15, 2022. Toll reimbursements will begin on March 1, 2022. Officials say current participants in the toll relief program must re-enroll to receive 2022 benefits.

“Today represents an important step forward for those citizens who rely upon Elizabeth River Crossings for essential connections and who have been impacted the most by tolls at the Downtown and Midtown Tunnels,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “The commitments announced today are fundamental to building a strong partnership with Elizabeth River Crossings as we work with the region to better serve the Hampton Roads community.”

“It’s done, it’s done,” said state Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) on Monday. Lucas has fought tirelessly to not only get toll relief, but to keep the issue out there and alive.

Lucas said the toll relief and the amount of money it can save a person is a big deal. She reminded the audience Monday of the infamous line delivered by then-Vice President Joe Biden who whispered in then-President Barack Obama’s ear that healthcare reform is a “Big F-ing deal.”

“I remember President Joe Biden, and this is a big F-ing deal. However, this is only yet another effort to ease the burden of tolls for those who live in Portsmouth and Norfolk and other areas who use these tolls,” Lucas said to great laughter, not using any curse words.

Find out if you’re eligible for relief and apply at this link.