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Virginia Supreme Court clears way for tolling on 2 tunnels

The Virginia Supreme Court ruled Thursday that imposing tolls on two existing tunnels did not constitute an unconstitutional tax. (The Trucker file photo)

The Trucker News Services

11/1/2013

RICHMOND, Va. — The Virginia Supreme Court has cleared the way for tolls on two existing tunnels to help pay for a new one in Hampton Roads.

The justices Thursday reversed a Portsmouth judge's ruling that the tolls amount to an unconstitutional tax.

A company that signed a deal with the Virginia Department of Transportation to build a second Midtown Tunnel tube between Portsmouth and Norfolk argued that the tolls are legally imposed “user fees.” The justices agreed.

Circuit Judge James A. Cales Jr. had ruled in May that the General Assembly had improperly ceded its taxing authority to the transportation department on the $2 billion project with Elizabeth River Crossings.

The tolls are scheduled to begin Feb. 1.

Virginia appealed to the state Supreme Court and the case was reversed and the commonwealth prevailed.

Gov. Bob McDonnell said that "means not only the project can go forward, but multiple other projects that are already done in Virginia and ones that are being contemplated that use public-private partnerships and use a very limited and targeted tolling authority are also going to be able to go forward.”

"So I think that’s very good for our transportation policy,” McDonnell said in a broadcast Thursday.

Whether other entities will use the ruling as a basis for arguing for tolls on highways and bridges throughout the U.S. remains to be seen, but within hours of the ruling the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA), the worldwide association representing toll facility owners and operators and businesses that serve them, applauded the decision.

 “The Supreme Court of Virginia issued the correct ruling today in determining that tolls on the Midtown and Downtown tunnels are constitutional,” said Patrick D. Jones, executive director and CEO of IBTTA.  “Tolls are not a tax; they are a user fee. The truth is that tolls are a fair and precise way to pay for transportation facilities because there is a clear and direct link between use of the facility and payment for that use.  If you don’t use the facility, you don’t pay for it. You only pay a toll when you choose to drive on a toll road for a higher level of convenience, reliability and safety.”

Jones went on to react to Thursday’s ruling by saying, “With an ever-increasing burden on states and municipalities to pay for highway and infrastructure development and maintenance, tolling is an incredibly valuable tool that must remain in the toolbox for government officials.  Today’s ruling thankfully allows officials in the Commonwealth of Virginia to continue to embrace tolling as a proven, reliable funding method that is already delivering results in 34 states across the country.”

Trucking stakeholders generally oppose tolling on new and existing roads and bridges.

The Trucker staff can be reached to comment on this article at editor@thetrucker.com.

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