Toll Patrol: What’s in it for me? How we benefit from tolls

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HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) — It’s hard to go anywhere in Hampton Roads without paying some sort of toll. Expressways, bridges and tunnels all come at a cost– and we’ll probably see more of them in the coming years.

10 On Your Side looked into where the money goes when you pay tolls for the Downtown and Midtown Tunnels, the HOT Lanes along I-64, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and the Chesapeake Expressway.

I-64 HOT Lanes 

Best deal: Carpool – it’s free!

On the HOT (High Occupancy/Toll) lanes, the toll can vary every 10 minutes. The I-64 hot lanes are free if you carpool and have EZ Pass Flex. For single drivers it got as high as $15 on Monday morning for one 10-minute interval, when traffic got jammed from a bad accident and heavy traffic to Naval Station Norfolk and the shipyards. VDOT says the single-driver toll is typically less than a dollar.

“You enter the lanes, you’re getting that more reliable travel time. That’s what you’re paying for,” said VDOT’s Nina Napolitano.

The Hot Lanes are designed to encourage carpooling, but VDOT data shows 76 percent of Hot Lane traffic is from single drivers. They’re willing to pay for the benefit of less traffic.

Revenue from the HOT Lanes also fund public transportation initiatives in Hampton Roads. The money has enabled additional Park & Ride bus routes connecting Virginia Beach to the Newport News Shipyard – adding a Silverleaf run, and creating a new one from the TCC Campus.

Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel

Best deal: Complete your roundtrip within 24 hours and save $8

The toll on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel just increased a dollar to $14 one way — the first increase in five years for the 17 mile trip across the bay. The return trip is just $6 if you come back within 24 hours.

“I love the Bay Bridge, I’d totally pay for that,” says Colleen Tidwell, a local driver. “I think it’s well-maintained.”

The majority of your toll goes for a major construction project. By 2023, CBBT will have a new parallel tunnel next to Thimble Shoal Tunnel, the one closer to Virginia Beach.

Tom Anderson, Deputy Executive Director for CBBT, says the added tunnel will create fewer headaches and more safety. “Having an additional tube there means we won’t have to have those additional lane closures that alternate traffic all night long. That’s a major inconvenience for users.”

The additional tunnel will mean no oncoming traffic whizzing at you at 55 miles an hour with no divider.

Anderson says the CBBT carries about a quarter of all the tourists who visit Virginia Beach.
Back in the day before 1964, they had to rely on ferries that took 90 minutes each way.

Chesapeake Expressway

Best deal: Frequent Traveler Discount Program; Avoid summer weekends

Drivers on the Chesapeake Expressway pay a $3 toll this time of the year, but that jumps to $8 and Expressway usage triples on Saturdays during the summer. Frequent travelers can sign up for a discount program.

Earl Sorey, Assistant Director of Public Works for Chesapeake, says it’s a matter of convenience and avoiding what would be an ongoing traffic nightmare.

“Those 30,000 vehicles would be on Battlefield Boulevard were it not for the expressway, so there’s a very tangible benefit to what you’re getting for your toll on the expressway. It would be gridlock to the point that businesses would be suffering.”

Chesapeake Expressway toll money goes toward technology, workers’ salaries, and maintenance of the road.

Driver Tim Young is doubtful. “They can’t be spending all of it on that road. Have you (driven) up that road before? I mean it’s crazy bumpy.”

The city says the expressway and the new Dominion Boulevard Veterans Bridge save time for people going to the Outer Banks, or commuting from Northeastern North Carolina.

“People don’t always understand that there’s a cost to sitting in traffic as well,” Sorey says.

Downtown & Midtown Tunnels

Best deal: Travel between 9 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. & 7 p.m . – 5:30 a.m.

Elizabeth River Crossings declined our request for an interview. The company operates and maintains the Downtown and Midtown Tunnels, where tolls cost anywhere from less than $2 to more than $5, depending on day, time and whether you have an EZPass.

“They save a lot of time,” said driver Errol Guthrie.

Combined, the two tunnels handle more than 100,000 vehicles every day. The company’s statement says your toll money pays for tunnel maintenance, operation costs, and maintenance of the MLK connector.

Driver Cindy Gendron doesn’t see it. “I don’t think there have been any improvements, or any improvement in the flow of traffic.”

Because ERC is a privately held firm, it does not release revenue figures. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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