By Dave Forster, March 21, 2014
Traffic at the Downtown and Midtown tunnels gradually returned - if
only slightly - in the first four weeks of tolling, according to the
latest look at vehicle counts.
Average weekday volumes increased by about 5,000 vehicles at the
Downtown and by about 1,000 vehicles at the Midtown by the end of
February, compared with the first week after tolls started on Feb. 1, an
analysis by the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization
Even so, the combined daily vehicle counts at the two crossings
remained about 20,000 lower than the average of 126,000 trips that were
recorded during a three-day stretch before tolling.
Meanwhile, a corresponding spike in demand at two untolled crossings
held mostly steady. Volumes at the High-Rise Bridge were still up 16
percent at the end of February - the same increase that the bridge saw
immediately after tolling. Traffic at the Gilmerton Bridge was up 32
percent at the end of the month, compared with a 34 percent jump
The analysis also found a slight shift in traffic from the
Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge-Tunnel to the Hampton Roads
Bridge-Tunnel, suggesting that some drivers are taking the latter to
avoid the tolled crossings at the Elizabeth River. Of all the trips
taken on the two bridge-tunnels across the harbor, 59 percent used the
Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel at the end of February, versus 57 percent
before the Midtown and Downtown were tolled.
The Transportation Planning Organization will give a more detailed
report this fall on how the tolls have affected traffic speeds and
congestion levels on the region's road network.
A researcher hired by the organization to survey attitudes on the
tolls also discussed his findings at a meeting Thursday. The survey, led
by Quentin Kidd, director of Christopher Newport University's Wason
Center for Public Policy, was done the week before tolling started.
A similar survey will be done in late April so the results can be compared to see whether sentiment has changed.
The survey was conducted by landline and cellphone and involved 601
respondents from Portsmouth, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake and
Suffolk. It had a maximum margin of error of plus-or-minus 3.9
percentage points at a 95 percent level of confidence.