Gov. McDonnell wants tolls delayed

Governor Bob McDonnell announced Monday that construction on the Midtown Tunnel project will start this fall.  That includes a new Midtown Tunnel, rehabilitating the existing Midtown and Downtown Tunnels, and extending the Martin Luther King Freeway.

Tolls were supposed to go into effect by that point, but the governor is now asking the Commonwealth Transportation Board to allocate $100 million to cover the cost of delaying tolls until January 2014.

Most of that money is coming from funds that were already set aside for the project but were not needed because of low interest rates when the financial close on the project took place Friday.

VDOT will present the governor’s request to the transportation board at its Wednesday board meeting in Richmond.  It could be voted on that day as well.

Aubrey Layne, the Hampton Roads District representative on the board, says he plans to support the governor’s request.

“The funds were set aside, designated for this project, and therefore I think that`s a good use of the funds,” said Layne, “What I really liked about this is that it does not impact the other projects going on in Hampton Roads and the state, so the projects that are so important to us will continue to go on; none of the funding on those will be reduced.”

There’s also another agreement that’s been reached to help reduce the burden of tolls.

The Governor announced Monday that drivers using the planned Martin Luther King extension will not have to pay tolls if they get on or off at High Street or London Boulevard for a local trip in Portsmouth.

Portsmouth Mayor Kenny Wright says that part of the announcement is good news, but overall, he says it doesn’t change his view on the deal.

“He`s kicking the can down the road until he gets out of office is what he`s doing,” said Wright, “we need to kill this deal and do it the right way.”

Mayor Wright says he is hopeful that Senators won’t approve the state’s budget, set to be voted on Tuesday, and force the governor back to the table, but he says a lawsuit to declare the tolls unconstitutional is still in the works if necessary.

“What the governor did today [Monday] pretty much tells me he wants to see us in court, and if that`s what he wants to do, then we`ll see him in court,” said Wright.

Tolls to use the Downtown and Midtown Tunnels will range from $1.59 at non-peak times to $1.84 at peak times.

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