by James A. Bacon
The Commonwealth Transportation Board voted Wednesday to make good on Governor Terry McAuliffe’s campaign promise to lower the tolls on two Elizabeth River tunnels. Tolls still will go up but less rapidly than provided for in the $2.1 billion public-private partnership agreement for the Downtown Tunnel/Midtown Tunnel project. Relief for the tolls, which will pay for upgrading tunnel links between Norfolk and Portsmouth, will cost the state $82.5 million over three years.
The CTB approved using $57.2 million in unallocated transportation funds and $24.3 million in bond funds to pay for the toll relief. “This is a good first step,” said McAuliffe, who addressed the board shortly after the vote. “This buys us some time to do what we need to do.”
Bacon’s bottom line. So much for the basic facts. Now for the analysis. Writes the Daily Press: “Both McAuliffe and Layne said they did not like the agreement the state had entered into with the Elizabeth River Crossings project.” But McAuliffe said the state was bound by a contract he described as a “bad deal.”
The contract was indeed a “bad deal” insofar as it jacked up tolls — up to $1.84 one-way for automobiles during peak periods — before the tunnel and highway improvements were complete. Without relief, Hampton Roads citizens would be paying for a benefit they do not enjoy. McAuliffe is right to seek redress.
But if Layne agrees that the agreement was deficient, why didn’t he say something when he served as a Hampton Roads representative to the board back when the CTB was voting to finalize the deal? I don’t recall him challenging the McDonnell administration during board meetings. Indeed, he was a steadfast champion of the project. Perhaps he had disagreements but expressed them in private channels of communication. If so, the question arises, what good is the Commonwealth Transportation Board? If it’s not a forum for hashing out transportation policy issues, what is it? Will the CTB serve the dictates of the McAuliffe administration as slavishly as it served those of the McDonnell administration?
The only real value I see in the CTB is that it provides some transparency into transportation policy and decision making. We learn what big projects the current administration is pushing. We see presentations on issues that the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Department of Rail and Transit are wrestling with. But as a forum for actually debating issues, it’s useless.There are currently no comments highlighted.