PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) - Work progresses at the Midtown Tunnel where crews are preparing for construction of a new tube as well as an extension of the Martin Luther King Freeway. But work may soon come to a halt.
Elizabeth River Crossings -- the company behind the $2 billion project -- will have to cross or relocate several water and sewer lines in the City of Portsmouth to continue the project. Law requires ERC and the City to agree on how the utility work will be done, but an agreement has not been reached.
ERC claims the City has purposely refused to allow the utility work, and a letter this week from VDOT Commissioner Greg Whirley supports that notion.
Whirley said the apparent actions by the City are "unprecedented and must be rectified immediately."
ERC filed a petition with the State Corporation Commission June 26 to allow utility work to proceed, despite the City's resistance. The City of Portsmouth filed a motion to dismiss that petition July 17.
"First of all, you could probably sense quite a bit of frustration with us refusing to cooperate," said Portsmouth Mayor Kenneth Wright about the situation to WAVY.com.
The Mayor admits the the City's lack of agreement with ERC is related to the issue of tolls being considered for the downtown tunnels.
"A Circuit Court judge has deemed [the tunnel tolls] unconstitutional, and this matter is before the Supreme Court," said Wright. "We're not going to allow ERC or anyone else to tap into our utility system until this matter is resolved."
ERC spokesperson Leila Rice declined an interview with WAVY.com, but instead sent the following statement:
"Without a resolution soon, our ability to award contracts to local businesses will be hampered, including the DBE/SWaM contractors we are procuring to work on the Project, particularly the Martin Luther King Extension. The lower court ruling had no impact on construction of the project, and in the plaintiffs' opposition joint motion to stay, they readily acknowledge this ... While there have been some delays it is too early to determine the magnitude of any cost impact at this point."
The Virginia Supreme Court is expected to take up the matter of tunnel tolls in September.
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