Downtown, Midtown toll relief program to expand to Hampton Roads residents making less than $50K

·3 min read

The exclusive toll relief program is set to expand to more Downtown and Midtown tunnel commuters, opening up relief to all Hampton Roads residents who make less than $50,000.

The expansion will open up the toll relief program to all Hampton Roads citizens, and will include the 15 jurisdictions covered by the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization.

“As a region we really do work well together, and I think this advances those aspirations and things we hope to accomplish that much more so,” said Donnie Tuck, mayor of Hampton. “This is very transformative for the region.”

The decision followed a recommendation by the Virginia Department of Transportation that was presented by David Caudill, the department’s toll division administrator, during a recent Elizabeth River Crossings task force meeting.

Based on the 2023 parameters outlined by Caudill, two-axle vehicles will received 50% off tolls when traveling through the Downtown and Midtown tunnels, with a maximum of 10 transactions per week. The rebate with be applied to the enrollees’ E-ZPass account within 24 hours.

Continuous enrollment is scheduled to begin Nov. 1, departing from the 2½-month enrollment window that opened in past years.

“This takes care of people who are not there during those 2½ months — maybe they moved, maybe they are deployed,” Caudill said.

The program results will be re-evaluated for potential adjustments next summer.

“We can pull these levers and adjust it. Maybe maximum transactions at 10 is not enough — we make it 12. Maybe the income threshold is not high enough — we make it $55,000,” Caudill said.

A public awareness campaign advertising the new eligibility to residents across Hampton Roads and southeastern Virginia will launch Oct. 15.

The relief is currently only available to Portsmouth and Norfolk residents making less than $30,000 annually.

Enrollment averaged 2,150 commuters each year, with monthly savings of $21. According to Caudill, general statistics show about two-thirds of the enrollees were Portsmouth residents.

Sheppard Miller, Secretary of Transportation, said there was no hesitation from local mayors to collaborate with transportation officials on toll relief.

“There are a lot of people in Hampton Roads that use this tunnel that don’t live in Norfolk or Portsmouth, but yet they are in the same boat,” Miller said. “This has provided a vehicle (for leaders) to work together to provide a common end for Hampton Roads, not for just their cities ... If the region dies, no one city or county is going to be okay.”

Shannon Glover, mayor of Portsmouth, said the expansion of the program, including the higher income threshold, was “a good start in the right direction.”

“We are a region and we intend to work together to improve the quality of life for all citizens in Hampton Roads and our respective cities.”

Portsmouth has pushed for reforms to the tunnel tolling system for years, and the City Council formally urged the state to end or reduce the tolls in July. Before that, a 2017 report by The Virginian-Pilot found some workers who commuted through the tunnel to low-wage jobs owed thousands of dollars in fees because they could not afford the cost of the tolls.

“Portsmouth was certainly adversely impacted in a big way with the new tolls. That being said, we are grateful for this relationship and for what we have been able to do together,” Glover said.

Caitlyn Burchett, 727-267-6059, caitlyn.burchett@virginiamedia.com