Virginia Supreme Court Upholds Proposed Tolls

The Supreme Court of Virginia has upheld the constitutionality of the proposed tolls on the Midtown and Downtown Tunnels between Portsmouth and Norfolk, reversing an earlier ruling by a circuit court judge that the tolls amount to an unconstitutional tax. The decision marks the end of a lawsuit by residents and business owners working to stop the tolls, which they said were illegal and harmful to commerce.

In its decision, the Supreme Court said the tolls are not taxes because they are designed to raise revenue. The tolls are paid “in exchange for a particularized benefit,” aren’t compelled by the government and are collected solely to fund the $2 billion project that is designed to expand and improve the tunnels, it said. 

Therefore lawmakers did not delegate the power of taxation to the state’s transportation department or Elizabeth River Crossings OpCo, LLC—the concessionaire responsible for the financing, construction and operation of the tunnel improvements in violation of the Virginia Constitution, it said.

Governor McDonnell applauded the Supreme Court for its ruling.  Moreover, he said the ruling confirmed his position that the state law governing public-private projects is a critical tool to get otherwise impossible projects done by drawing on private-sector capital and innovation.

The tolls are scheduled to begin on Feb. 1, 2014. Toll rates for light and passenger vehicles will be $1.59 (off-peak) and $1.84 (peak). Toll rates for heavy vehicles are $4.77 (off-peak) and $7.36 (peak).

Mindy Long's photo

Mindy Long

Before launching a full-time freelance career, Long edited NATSO's Stop Watch magazine. Prior to that Long worked as a staff reporter for Transport Topics, a weekly trade newspaper, covering freight transportation, fuel and environmental issues. In addition to covering the transportation sector, Long has written, reported and edited for a variety of media outlets. She was the Washington correspondent for WCAX-TV (CBS) in Burlington, Vt., a criminal court reporter in Chicago and a freelance copy editor for Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine in Washington D.C. Long hold a master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in Evanston, Ill., and a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Westminster College in Salt Lake City.More
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