PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Spanish infrastructure company Abertis officially closed on the sale of Elizabeth River Crossings (ERC), which operates the Midtown and Downtown tunnels and the MLK Expressway.

Abertis and investment partner Manulife Investment Management acquired a 100% stake from Macquarie Infrastructure Partners II and Skanska, with Abertis holding 55.2%.

Abertis originally purchased ERC for $2.3 billion in November, which included $1.2 billion in equity and $1.1 billion in debt. Abertis had requested up to a maximum 68% stake.

In related news, Elizabeth River Tunnels (ERT) announced Wednesday, that in conjunction with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), there will be no toll increase at those tunnels in 2021.

Through an agreement under former Governor Bob McDonnell in 2011, ERC was given exclusive rights to set and collect tolls on the Downtown and Midtown tunnels for 58 years. Tolls began in 2014, and have impacted the region heavily — particularly Portsmouth. Tolls went up from $2.20 to $2.33 for passenger vehicles during peak hours in 2020.

Current toll rates

Before the official sale, ERC agreed to amend the comprehensive agreement to incorporate three changes:

  • No toll increases will be implemented on the Elizabeth River Tunnels until at least January 2022 in recognition of the COVID-19 economic impacts on the region. Tolls will not be increased on January 1, 2021 as previously anticipated.
  • There will be a 10-year extension of the Toll Relief Program, which will last through 2037. The annual Toll Relief Program helps offset the toll burden on Norfolk and Portsmouth residents most financially impacted by the project.
  • The previously implemented billing and customer service practices, which include the monthly billing process and limit administrative fees to the monthly statement, were incorporated by the amendment. These practices offer the facility users the greatest opportunity to pay lower costs for toll transactions and avoid large administrative fees.

A taskforce established in 2019 estimated it would take about $1 billion to buy down the tolls, but no money is expected to come from local cities or the state, especially during the pandemic.

The only local toll increase for 2021 announced at this time in Hampton Roads is for the South Norfolk Jordan Bridge. Regular passenger vehicles will be charged $2.65 for each trip via E-ZPass and pay by plate will be billed $5.75.