Elizabeth River Crossings now running Downtown, Midtown Tunnels in Norfolk VA
By Peter Samuel
2012-07-21: Since July 13 Elizabeth River Crossings OPCO LLC (ERC) has been running the Downtown and Midtown Tunnels under the estuarial Elizabeth River on the westside of downtown Norfolk Virginia. The tunnels are the Norfolk business district's connection to the city of Portsmouth and suburbs to the west in the Hampton Roads metro area.
The ERC company is a 50/50 joint venture of Sweden based Skanska a construction company and Sydney Australia based Macquarie tollroad financiers and owners. ERC will toll, develop, operate and maintain the tunnels for 58 years under a concession agreement with VDOT.
Major development will be adding a third to the capacity of the crossings. They are presently three tubes of 2 lanes each, twin tubes at the Downtown Tunnel and a single tube running one lane each direction at the Midtown Tunnel.
Under the concession agreement Macquarie/Skanska's ERC will add a 4th tube of two lanes to the Midtown Tunnel.
Tolls will start at $1.59 for cars offpeak, $1.84 peak in the tunnels. There will be tolls on a new Martin Luther King expressway that provides an improved approach to the Midtown Tunnel from the southwest.
Tolling will be all-electronic.
Tolls begin January 2014.
The project known formally as Downtown Tunnel/Midtown Tunnel/Martin Luther King Expressway (MLK) Extension Project includes:
- a new two-lane tunnel under the Elizabeth River adjacent to the existing Midtown Tunnel
- extending the MLK from London Boulevard to Interstate 264 (I-264), with an interchange at High Street
- minor modifications to interchange at Brambleton Avenue/Hampton Boulevard in Norfolk
- maintenance and safety improvements to the existing Midtown Tunnel and to the existing Downtown Tunnel
- improved bus services for Norfolk commuters
The toll concession will require the investors to spend around $1.7 billion in improvements. VDOT will contribute another $362m.
Tolls on the tunnels have been on and off thanks to the vicissitudes of the politics of government ownership.
In another development law suit has been filed alleging the proposed tolls are not a proper fee for service but a revenue raising device. Patrick McSweeney a wellknown Virginia lawyer is fighting the case and a group Citizens Against Unfair Tolls is raising money to pay for the legal fight.
"Tolls that raise revenue for the construction of other public facilities are not genuine user fees, but taxes," the lawsuit claims. Under state law only the legislature and other popularly elected bodies can levy taxes.
Tolls are usually regarded as fees for service, not taxes, because they are a fee for the use of a specific road, bridge or tunnel.
And given that tolls will be levied by a private business the "tax" moniker seems a real stretch!
VDOT commissioner Greg Whirley says the project was developed in accord with Virginia law and with extended public outreach and consultation.
State attorney general Ken Cuccinelli will defend the suit.