Va Supreme Court approves Hampton Roads tunnel tolls - WSLS 10 NBC in Roanoke/Lynchburg Va

Va Supreme Court approves Hampton Roads tunnel tolls

Posted: Updated:

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Tolls on two existing tunnels to help pay for a third one in traffic-choked Hampton Roads are legally permissible user fees, not an unconstitutional tax, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

The justices unanimously reversed Portsmouth Circuit Judge James A. Cales Jr.'s ruling last May that the tolls were unconstitutional. The tolls are scheduled to begin Feb. 1, starting at nearly $2 for passenger vehicles and increasing over time through 2070.

The Department of Transportation and a private partner, Elizabeth River Crossings, signed a $2 billion agreement in 2011 to build and operate a second Midtown Tunnel rube between Portsmouth and Norfolk and renovate the existing Midtown and Downtown tunnels. The deal was done under the 1995 Virginia Private Partnership Act.

Cales ruled in May that the General Assembly had improperly ceded its taxing authority by giving "unfettered power to the Department of Transportation to set toll rates without any real or meaningful parameters."

However, the Supreme Court cited three reasons for concluding the tolls are a user fee instead of a tax: They pay for a benefit not shared by the general public, drivers are not compelled to use the tunnels, and the tolls are collected solely to pay for the project and not to raise general revenues.

The court also found that the legislative power to set user fee rates may be constitutionally delegated to the transportation department and Elizabeth River Crossings.

A group of residents who believe the tolls are unfair and onerous filed the lawsuit challenging the tolls. Their attorney, Patrick McSweeney, did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment.

The transportation department and Elizabeth River Crossings had said that if Cales' ruling had stood, it would have dismantled a 167-year-old procedure for setting tolls, and would have put other ongoing and future transportation projects in jeopardy. Stuart A. Raphael, attorney for Elizabeth River Crossings, said a win by the plaintiffs also would have prompted "copy-cat challenges" to public-private partnership laws in other states.

"The Supreme Court of Virginia got it right on the law and also avoided the very bad consequences that would have resulted if the trial court's ruling had not been reversed," Raphael said.

Work on the tunnel projects is continuing, and the Supreme Court expedited its hearing in the case.

(Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

  • 4 Palestinians killed after truce goes into effect

    4 Palestinians killed after truce goes into effect

    Friday, August 1 2014 4:00 AM EDT2014-08-01 08:00:53 GMT
    A three-day cease-fire in the Gaza Strip has gone into effect following heavy Israel-Hamas fighting.
    Gaza officials say at least four Palestinians have been killed by Israeli tank fire nearly two hours after Israel and Hamas began observing a three-day cease-fire.
  • Colorado to issue driver's licenses to immigrants

    Colorado to issue driver's licenses to immigrants

    Friday, August 1 2014 3:26 AM EDT2014-08-01 07:26:29 GMT
    Colorado will begin issuing driver's licenses and identification cards to immigrants Friday regardless of their legal status, underscoring a sea change in a state that less than a decade ago passed strict...
    Colorado will begin issuing driver's licenses and identification cards to immigrants Friday regardless of their legal status, underscoring a sea change in a state that less than a decade ago passed strict immigration...
  • Giraffe collides with overhead bridge, killed during transport

    Giraffe collides with overhead bridge, killed during transport

    Thursday, July 31 2014 11:13 PM EDT2014-08-01 03:13:30 GMT
    An animal cruelty group plans to investigate the death of a giraffe during transport in South Africa. 
    An animal cruelty group plans to investigate the death of a giraffe during transport in South Africa. 
Powered by WorldNow

WSLS 10, P.O. Box 10
Roanoke, VA 24022-0010

Telephone: 540.981.9110
Fax: 540.343.3157
Email: news@wsls.com

Can't find something?
Powered by WorldNow
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC. A Media General Company.