PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) - Local and state officials shared their thoughts on Wednesday's ruling to block tolls at the Midtown and Downtown tunnels.
Mayor Kenny Wright and Councilwoman Elizabeth Psimas told WAVY.com they were very happy with the decision, and are calling for long-term solutions to traffic congestion in Hampton Roads.
Senator Louise Lucas echoed their sentiment.
"It just seemed so unfair for the people in the Hampton Roads area, Portsmouth in particular, to be saddled with 58 years of tolls on a tunnel they've already paid for and for which we're not going to have any immediate improvement. There has to be another way to fund these road construction projects rather than tolling. I believe that the voters are willing to vote for a referendum that will increase sales tax or other levies rather than these exorbitant tolls over a 58 year period."
She fully expects an appeal and lawmakers on the other side of the fight are promising one.
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli released the following statement:
The revenues raised through the tunnel tolls were user fees to be used solely for a single transportation project. As such, we still believe the tolls cannot be considered a tax and that it is completely within VDOT's authority to set reasonable tolls to pay for the construction, operation, and maintenance of the project. Certainly, we are disappointed with the court's decision. We expect to appeal.
If this ruling stands and becomes the law of Virginia, it would threaten the commonwealth's ability to use public-private partnerships to construct major transportation projects. Many tolled projects could require legislative approval before proceeding, which would mean significantly increased costs and construction delays.
Governor Bob McDonnell (R) released the following statement:
"I am disappointed with the ruling made by Circuit Judge James A. Cales Jr. in Portsmouth today regarding the tolling for the critically needed Elizabeth River Crossings project, including the Midtown Tunnel, the Downtown Tunnels and the Martin Luther King Boulevard among other improvements. Judge Cales ruled against setting tolls on the project.
"The existing tunnels were built with toll revenues and tolls are needed again to build a second Midtown Tunnel and make other essential improvements for the sake of safety and efficient travel. The Commonwealth will seek a stay and appeal the judge's ruling to the Virginia Supreme Court because we believe the state's position is legally correct through the Virginia Constitution and state code.
"The Elizabeth River Crossing project is vital to the safety, transportation and economic vitality of the Hampton Roads region."
Elizabeth River Crossings released the following statement:
In response to today's court ruling, Elizabeth River Crossings echoes the statement released by the Attorney General's office and will be working with our partners at VDOT toward an appeal. In the meantime, ERC remains committed to delivering the Elizabeth River Tunnels Project consistent with our agreement with VDOT and the Commonwealth of Virginia.
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