Gov. McAuliffe proposes toll fee cap of $2,200 for Hampton Roads residents

PORTSMOUTH, Va. - You will still have to pay your tolls. However, on Thursday, Governor Terry McAuliffe proposed a budget amendment which would cap fees associated with tolls from the Elizabeth River Tunnels as $2,200 for residents.

“I think it was one of the worst deals ever negotiated," Governor McAuliffe told reporters on Thursday, referring to the Macquarie-Skanska partnership deal which built the Elizabeth River Tunnels and helps sustain them.

McAuliffe said was 'sick and tired' of watching Macquarie-Skanska charge Hampton Roads residents charge thousands of dollars in penalty fees associated with not paying toll violations in a timely manner.

“I’ll be honest with you folks. I am a very well-hardy, positive-outlooking Irishman. It is very hard to get me mad, and I am mad. I am sick and tired of these companies coming in here and abusing our citizens, and what really makes me angry is that they are abusing the citizens who can least afford to be abused today.”

According to a press release from the Governor's office, "the budget amendment closes a loophole to help reduce fees imposed on first-time offenders. It would prohibit the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles from placing administrative registration holds on vehicles unless the Macquarie-Skanska partnership offers motorists the option to settle their toll violations with a cap of $2,200."

The cap would apply to fees associated with tolls, like penalties, administration fees, fines and court related costs.

Unfortunately, the cap would apply to violations made on July 1, 2016 and beyond. McAuliffe and the Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne told reporters they are trying to work with Macquarie-Skanska to negotiate toll related fees made prior to July 1, 2016, but because of the 2012 contract, Macquarier-Skanska does not have to officially comply.

McAuliffe told reporters Macquarier-Skanska has "horrible customer service", and noted local residents had to get local media involved if they wanted a phone call back from the company.

While the toll fee cap will help some residents, News 3 wanted to know what the Governor could do to help bring down tolls now. Unfortunately, McAuliffe said, because of the contract, there is nothing legislators can do right now to bring the toll rate down.

Toll rates went up at the first of the year, and according to Layne, the contract says tolls will increase at a rate of 3.5 percent each year until 2070. News 3's Merris Badcock did the math, applied those rate increases, and found out drivers with an EZPass could be paying $12.07 per ride during peak hours by 2070.

The full press release from the Governor's office is below.

Today at Portsmouth City Hall, Governor Terry McAuliffe announced a proposed budget amendment in response to the Macquarie-Skanska partnership’s handling of toll violation collections on the Elizabeth River Tunnels, another step to help alleviate the burden of a poorly negotiated contract by the previous administration.

The amendment closes a loophole to help reduce fees imposed on first-time offenders. It would prohibit the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles from placing administrative registration holds on vehicles unless the Macquarie-Skanska partnership offers motorists the option to settle their toll violations with a cap of $2,200.

“The recent actions by the Macquarie-Skanska partnership are the epitome of bad corporate citizenship,” said Governor McAuliffe. “The Macquarie-Skanska partnership is charging amounts greater than $2,200 for first-time toll violators. They are settling out of court at amounts far greater than the limits set in the agreement we made in 2015 to eliminate tolling on the MLK Freeway Extension and in 2016 legislation. This is a violation of the spirit of our agreement and further undermines the partnership’s standing in the Hampton Roads region.”

Currently, toll facilities take cases to court at their discretion. Without going to court, individuals do not have an option to settle their toll violations with a cap of $2,200 – and often end up paying significantly more money.

“I stand with Governor McAuliffe in working to provide toll relief for the residents of Portsmouth and Norfolk,” said Lieutenant Governor Northam. “The recent reports of outrageous and unreasonable fines are inexcusable, and we will work together to use every tool at our disposal to bring about much needed reform and relief.”

Last year, Governor McAuliffe championed House Bill 1069, sponsored by Delegate Chris Jones, reforming the Commonwealth’s toll violation process and establishing consumer protections for drivers charged with toll violations, including:

  • Capping civil penalties and administrative fees that can be recovered for first-time offenders at court at $2,200 regardless of the number of violations;
  • Establishing a 10-day grace period. Virginia toll facilities are now required to re-try submission of toll transactions over a 10-day period for Virginia E-ZPass customers when their accounts are insufficient;
  • Sending alerts to Virginia E-ZPass account holders when their accounts become insufficient and encouraging them to add funds so tolls may be processed without a violation;
  • Doubling the amount of time before administrative fees can increase beyond $25 from 30 to 60 days; and,
  • Requiring Virginia toll facilities to use a collection process prior before issuing a summons for court appearances, in order to reduce the instances of civil penalties for commuters.

“The 2016 legislation was designed to put public trust in the Commonwealth’s tolling process after it was shattered as a result of this contract,” said Delegate Chris Jones. “We built in these consumer protections to reform the toll violation and collection process, and I fully support Governor McAuliffe’s proposed budget amendment and efforts to make our intentions crystal clear.”

“We are taking steps to close a loophole the Macquarie-Skanska partnership has used to its advantage,” said Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne. “We want to give individuals a reasonable chance to clear their toll debt and get off to a fresh start. It’s simply the right thing to do. We hope the General Assembly will support this budget amendment at its veto session next month.”