Virginia court hears taxpayer case against tunnel tolls

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 5/1/2013

A circuit court judge in Portsmouth, VA, began hearing trial evidence on Wednesday, May 1, in a civil lawsuit brought by taxpayers who claim it’s unfair for the state DOT to charge tolls at two existing tunnels to fund the construction of a third tunnel in the Hampton Roads region.

Taxpayers Danny Meeks, Christopher Anuswith and Donna Bradshaw are three named plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the Virginia Department of Transportation and a company called Elizabeth Crossings Opco LLC, according to Portsmouth Circuit Court records.

The Elizabeth River Crossing Project, which has been on the books for a number of years, consists of a new two-lane tunnel adjacent to the existing Midtown Tunnel that connects Portsmouth and Norfolk. The project also features an upgrade to the Midtown and Downtown tunnels, a cash subsidy for local transit, an additional interchange and an extension of the Martin Luther King Freeway from London Boulevard to Interstate 264.

To pay for the new tunnel, the transit subsidy and freeway extension, VDOT and Elizabeth Crossings plan to toll the existing Midtown and Downtown tunnels as part of a public-private partnership. VDOT selected Elizabeth Crossings as contractor and toll operator in 2011.

A group of 37 plaintiffs represented by attorney Patrick M. McSweeney filed the lawsuit in July 2012, claiming the plan for tolls on existing tunnels amounts to taxation without representation.

The Midtown Tunnel, currently toll free, carries U.S. Highway 58 across the Elizabeth River. The Downtown Tunnel, also currently toll free, carries Interstate 264 across the river’s southern branch.

According to the project website, tolls collection is set to begin in February 2014.

Unless the lawsuit halts the tolls, the agency will go ahead with toll collection through E-ZPass. If a user does not have E-ZPass, a camera system will photograph vehicle license plates and send invoices to registered owners.

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