Virginia bill would create regional bridge, tunnel authority

| 1/15/2007

A bill in the Virginia House would create a regional transportation authority with the power to levy tolls to pay for roadwork and upgrades on all major bridges and tunnels in Hampton Roads.

Sponsored by Delegate Terrie Suit, R-Virginia Beach, the transportation authority bill also would allow for tolls on existing roads, bridges and tunnels.

This past fall, Delegate Leo Wardrup, R-Virginia Beach, offered a similar effort, but it was left in committee when the General Assembly’s special session ended.

Suit’s bill, like the previous effort, would transfer the authority of seven bridges from the Virginia Department of Transportation to a regional group.

The group would control the James River Bridge, the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel, the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel, two downtown tunnels in Hampton roads, the Interstate 64 bridge in Chesapeake and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.

The authority’s creation would be subject to an affirmative vote of six or more local governments.

Suit wrote in the bill that local governments that do not vote to participate by Jan. 1, 2008, “will be deemed to have voted in favor to participate.” The bill doesn’t set toll rates for any bridges.

Supporters say the idea of a tolling authority remains controversial. Others say authorizing tolls to be placed on existing roadways would be very difficult to pull off.

The bill – HB1999 – is awaiting assignment to a committee.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor