Hampton Roads residents protest tunnel tolls

Jordan Crawford | 2/6/2014, 10:21 a.m.
Hampton Roads residents maintain that tolls will kill Portsmouth.

About three dozen people, including Portsmouth Resident Danielle Rackett, assembled Saturday morning outside nTelos Wireless Pavilion. After two hours of holding signs and drawing honks of approval from drivers, the group walked a few blocks up to High Street Landing to continue its cause.

As of midnight Saturday, drivers with an E-ZPass will pay 75 cents during off-peak hours and $1 during peak times - weekdays from 5:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. Those unregistered for E-ZPass will pay an additional $1.50.

Rackett estimated that she went through the Downtown Tunnel more than 180 times in January. She vows she won’t do it once this month.

“I’m normally skeptical of boycotts,” Rackett said. “This one I believe in.”

The group gave a host of reasons for protesting. They said the tolls will harm Portsmouth’s economy. Some said the rumored reasons for the fees are to help pay for a second Midtown tube, build the MLK Extension and rehab the old tunnels. They feel these reasons are unjust.

They also hope that decision makers will notice when considering tolls in other places.

“You don’t know what’s going to happen,” Craig Jameson said. “If we get enough numbers, we might be heard.”

Jameson attended an initial protest in March 2012. Last week, he helped make dozens of posters. Pipes bursting in his home Thursday didn’t stop his effort.

“These tolls are going to kill this town,” Jameson said. “Some of the people are wearing water gear to make fun of a commercial made by Elizabeth River Crossings, who’s in charge of this mess.”

The commercial shows a woman using a raft to cross the water instead of going through a tunnel.

Elizabeth River Crossings defended the commercial.

“Our goal with the ad was to demonstrate that EZ-Pass is the easiest, and least expensive way to cross, and based on transponder acquisition in Hampton Roads since the campaign began, we believe they've been effective,” spokeswoman Leila Rice said in an email.

The Virginia Department of Transportation said 78,930 transponders had been distributed in Hampton Roads between Nov. 1 and last Thursday. The goal was 75,000 by Feb. 1.

Those numbers aren’t the whole story for Rackett. Holding a sign that read, “Honk for no tolls,” she got dozens of drivers to blare their horns for her. Some had transponders.

Rackett said five friends have moved out of Portsmouth to be closer to areas they need to visit often.

She is going to try to find alternative routes, but that will mean adding at least 15 minutes to her commute.

“Why’d they do this to us?” she wondered.