November 11, 2015; by Johanna Somers –
City Council members want the legislature to reduce or eliminate tolls at the Midtown and Downtown tunnels, but local lawmakers told them to temper their expectations.
State legislators “are going to be looking for us to find our own long-term sustainable source of funding to take care of ourselves,” state Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, said Tuesday when the council presented its legislative wish list to state lawmakers.
“I think we are pretty much stuck with” the toll contract, added state Sen. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake.
Mayor Kenny Wright said the tunnel tolls were becoming a lesson on “what not to do” nationwide.
“It’s great that we are all using this as the baseline as the worst in the world,” Wright said.
Wright pointed to a study by James Koch, an Old Dominion University economist, that estimated the city would lose about $360,000 in annual revenue because of tolls and tunnel closures.
Cosgrove told the council that options were slim.
“I wouldn’t expect a lot, to be honest with you,” Cosgrove said. “There are a lot of projects that need to be funded, and where does the money come from?”
Lucas, who sits on the Senate Finance Committee, said she was working on the tolls in a “piecemeal” fashion.
For instance, she said, she worked with Gov. Terry McAuliffe to remove tolls from the Martin Luther King Freeway Extension. McAuliffe announced in July that the state will pay $78 million to keep tolls off of it . She also pointed to the deal with Elizabeth River Crossings, in which the company agreed to contribute $5 million over 10 years to pay for rebates on Midtown and Downtown tunnel tolls for people who are “most severely impacted.”
State Del. Matthew James, D-Portsmouth, said he would continue to work with the Appropriations Committee to see whether they could come up with a new source of money to reduce the cost of tolls in Portsmouth and Norfolk.
He said they removed tolls from the MLK Extension by taking money left over from the state’s canceled $1.4 billion deal to build a 55-mile highway parallel to U.S. 460 between Suffolk and Petersburg.
“So that is what we can do, but that is probably the most we can do right now,” James said. “But we will continue to see what else we can do to come up with some remedies.”