Virginia Buys Out Tolls in One Region, Considers Toll Lanes Extension in Another

AASHTO Journal, 17 July 2015

Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced that Virginia will use $78 million in state funds to buy out tolls planned for a highway extension project in Portsmouth, while near Washington, D.C., the state Department of Transportation recommends extending recently built Virginia express toll lanes across a major bridge into Maryland.

McAuliffe said July 10 that “we have worked with our private sector partner to ensure there will be no tolls” on a mile-long extension in Portsmouth of the Martin Luther King Freeway to connect with Interstate 264.


“Imposing a toll to finance the improvements would have placed an unfair burden on the citizens of Portsmouth,” the governor said, noting they were already sharing toll costs for tunnels to connect with nearby cities in the Hampton Roads area that includes Norfolk, Suffolk and Virginia Beach.

Tolls and their economic impact have long been a concern to Portsmouth.  Earlier, both McAuliffe and former governor Bob McDonnell had also authorized payments to ERC to first delay collection of tolls on related tunnel projects and then to temporarily reduce tunnel tolls while one new tunnel was being built, the Virginia-Pilot reported.

Elizabeth River Crossings is the private partner with VDOT to complete the extension and make other improvements that are expected to open for travel in December 2016.

The state will take the $78 million from a defunct project, approved in the previous administration, to carve out a new highway between Suffolk and Petersburg.

The agreement with ERC also caps the total the vendor can seek from motorists in unpaid tolls, penalties and court costs. ERC also agreed to “pay $500,000 a year for 10 years to help offset the cost of tolls to those toll users who are the most financially stressed,” McAuliffe said.

In northern Virginia, area residents have seen traffic flows improve along I-495 since completion of high-occupancy toll express lanes added capacity in the corridor. But those express lanes operate only in Virginia part of the Capital Beltway, so they empty their traffic into regular-access lanes just before reaching the heavily traveled American Legion Bridge that crosses the Potomac River into Maryland northwest of D.C.

Now a VDOT staff report presented July 15 to Virginia’s Commonwealth Transportation Board recommends beginning “outreach to Maryland” on options to extend those HOT lanes across that major bridge and beyond to connect with I-270.

That study says adding capacity through construction of HOT lanes to the American Legion Bridge would not prevent pursuing future construction of an “outer crossing bridge.”

And it says the D.C.-area’s Metro subway system could increase daily commute capacity through one key tunnel from Virginia by about 15 percent if it would use all eight-car trains instead of also using some six-car trains.

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