PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — There is a new task force to examine ways to get rid of the Downtown and Midtown Tunnel tolls.
Last week, the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization unanimously voted to create a working group to do that. The group hasn’t met yet, but they are coming together as a region to fight a common foe, and that is the tunnel tolls that will be with us for 50 years.
The eight-member group is dedicated to finding ways to have the state buy down and to eliminate these tolls because they not only hurt Portsmouth and Norfolk, they have come to learn that they hurt the region overall and impact people who don’t even use them.
Long time opponent of the tolls, Terry Danaher, is the chairperson of the Community Transportation Advisory Committee and sits on the new committee. She says, “there has been a certain amount of state responsibility in the legislature questioning the state’s level of responsibility. The state got us into this, so perhaps the state needs to get us out of it.”
Another member of the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization toll committee is Portsmouth Mayor John Rowe, who says “it’s not just an issue for Portsmouth. It is an issue for the whole region, and I think it is significant in what is taking place and the region has embraced this unanimously, that it is a crummy deal and it is a terrible deal for Portsmouth, and everyone else in Hampton Roads. It hurts everyone else in Hampton Roads.”
The negative impact of tolls is nothing new.
Last June, Old Dominion University’s Economics Professor Dr. James Koch made it clear in his tolls study, and how it impacts Portsmouth. He says, “The tunnels are a regional facility and they are hurting the entire region, but it’s Portsmouth paying the biggest price for the tolls, easily.”
Danaher said, “The operators of the tunnels are a foreign company, and they get the money, billions and billions of dollars over $22 billion dollars on much less of an investment of less than one billion dollars.”
For eight years, Danaher has been upset that the private partners are reaping tens of millions of dollars in an unfair toll deal on the backs of the people.
However, Virginia has itself to blame. The Commonwealth agreed to a deal under former Governor Bob McDonnell that leaves the possibility of skyrocketing tolls for fifty years, but that was the bad deal that was cut with the state says Rowe. He said, “I think the deal is crummy.”
Rowe made the motion to create the task force, and he’s ready to fight, “I think for the first time we have the whole region saying the ERC contract with the state is bad and really bad for Portsmouth. It’s not a Portsmouth problem or a Portsmouth-Norfolk problem. It’s a regional problem.”
Hampton Roads Regionalism is fighting back in an uphill battle. 10 On Your Side asked Rowe what he wants Virginia to do. He said, “I want them to buy it out, pure and simple.”
That would be a buyout of about a billion dollars, which is not knew either. Portsmouth Delegate Steve Heretick told us this last June, “We have to find financial resources necessary whether from state or HRTAC (Hampton Roads Transportation Accountability Commission) or another mechanism to help pay this down or pay it off.”
It appears the longtime fight has new energized people, new blood, new resolve, “People are new to positions. The new people are waking up and realizing we don’t want this. It is not fair to the localities here,” Danaher said.