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Virginia judge rules against plan to impose tolls on tunnels

A Circuit Court Judge in Virginia ruled that the state General Assembly exceeded its power when it allowed the highway department to impose tolls at two existing tunnels to help pay for a new tunnel connecting Norfolk and Portsmouth, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Portsmouth Circuit Judge James A. Cales Jr. ruled in favor of a group of businesses and residents that sued in 2012 claiming the Virginia Department of Transportation and Elizabeth River Crossings don’t have the authority to impose taxes, claiming the tolls are taxes because the existing Downtown and Midtown tunnels’ construction costs have been paid.

Elizabeth River Crossings won a $2.1 billion contract to build the new tunnel, renovate the Downtown Tunnel and expand the Martin Luther King Expressway in Portsmouth. Tolls to pay for the construction were to begin next February.

A spokesman for Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli told the Post the office expects to appeal. Brian Gottstein argued the revenues were to be user fees used to build the new tunnel — not a tax — and that VDOT has the authority to set tolls to pay for certain projects.

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