SHORE THING: The Troll Under the Bridge

Cape Charles Wave

February 18, 2013

The Bridge-Tunnel Commission’s surprising decision to lower tolls for some commuters just might be like the first bricks chipped away from the Berlin Wall.

By itself it may not be that meaningful, but if it starts a trend, who knows where it might end?

Could the action escalate to the point that we no longer fear the “Toll Troll” under the bridge, lurking to gobble up travelers’ wallets?

I wonder why, after all these years, the Bridge-Tunnel Commission made a concession to Eastern Shore residents?

Is there finally a recognition that the crushing toll is the major reason that Northampton is the poorest county in the state of Virginia?

The $12 Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel (CBBT) toll is the highest in the United States by far.

The Verrazano-Narrows Bridge toll into New York City is $13, but the other direction is free, so the average toll is $6.50. Motorcyclists pay $5.50, or an average of $2.75 both ways.

(And why does our Bridge-Tunnel charge the same rate for a motorcycle as for a 2-axle truck?)

The Overseas Highway to Key West spans 127 miles, with the longest bridge in the chain stretching seven miles. The last toll was collected in 1954. Now it’s free.


The CBBT carries like a badge of honor the distinction of being built and maintained totally by tolls.

As if that’s something to be proud of.


Take the Hampton Roads Bridge-Tunnel: Tolls funded the original span, but federal and state highway funds paid for the second parallel span 40 years ago, and there has been no toll since.

Hampton Roads also has a special tax levy to help fund regional transportation projects. That’s one way to generate growth.

Yes, I know: “NO TOLL, NO CONTROL.” The axiom of the Eastern Shore.

We like our toll because there’s never a Hampton Roads-style traffic jam.

We like our toll because it keeps Northampton County a little piece of Eden, unsullied by the masses.

The $12 toll is, in fact, our country club dues that keep out the riffraff. (Or is it in?)

Well, I like my little country club, but I also recognize that this is the 21st century, and while the southeast United States has boomed over the past 50 years, Northampton County has declined.

The irony is that only 30 miles from Cape Charles is the second-largest economic hub in Virginia. And Northampton County gets no benefit.

This county is suffering serious economic decline, and the best way to reverse that is to drastically cut the toll. If the wall falls, Northampton could begin to share some of the economic stimulus of neighboring Hampton Roads.

Reducing the 24-hour round-trip passage to $17 was a first step. Reducing frequent commuters’ charges to $5 each way is a second. But the real shot in the arm will only come when the toll for every passenger vehicle is no more than $5. And I’m talking round-trip.

Sure, the CBBT would not be self-supporting anymore, but why should it be? Why do no highway funds contribute to that 17-mile span?

Until we have the will to tame the Troll under the bridge, we’ll continue to live in a “toll-gated” community, where pensioners enjoy the beauty of nature, and young people born on the Shore have to leave to earn a living.

The longest bridge in the United States is the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway at 24 miles. To get to New Orleans you have to pay a $3 toll. On the way out, it’s free.

Food for thought?

SHORE THING is an occasional feature of the Cape Charles Wave.



14 Responses to “SHORE THING: The Troll Under the Bridge”

  1. Tony Sacco on February 17th, 2013 11:55 pm

    The toll now was a ‘no growth’ set by local officials. Charge a $10 one-way toll and watch an economic boom in Northampton.

  2. Theodore Warner on February 18th, 2013 7:07 am

    One argument for a free or reduced toll for Northampton County residents is that the bridge primarily benefits people travelling THROUGH the county and not the county itself. I’m sure we make some money from them as they drive through, but for the most part, we can’t capitalize on our proximity to Norfolk because of the toll.

  3. Walter Parks on February 18th, 2013 7:47 am

    Raise the toll and let’s keep our way of life as we know it. Simple and hardly any crime.

  4. Pete Baumann on February 18th, 2013 8:38 am

    I’m with you guys on this one, The idea that a “reduced” toll will somehow turn the “southern” shore into Long Island is absurd. Can anyone say “zoning?” In addition, I was always intrigued by the Star transit schedule that had the last bus returning well before a 9-5 worker could take it. Giving the poor at least a shot at a job can’t be a bad thing. Don’t expect any “boom” here on the shore, but maybe a few of our brothers and sisters will get a chance for a better life.

  5. Kearn Schemm on February 18th, 2013 8:40 am

    We can have it both ways. All we need is a CBBT “Northampton County Residents Pass.” Charge us $20 per year for the pass, which would only be issued with proof of residency in NHC. Thereafter, with the pass, we pay $5 per round trip. The CBBT remains self funding, but we get to be part of the booming areas south of the CBBT. It could be expanded to include people living within a given distance of the southern end of the bridge too. But we in Northampton need a break on those tolls.

  6. Karen Davis on February 18th, 2013 9:16 am

    Northampton is not even in the top 10 of Virginia’s poorest municipalities. Check your facts, please. I think we’re 24th, or something like that. If I remember correctly, Covington — a town with serious “economic development” thanks to Westvaco — is actually the poorest. I just drove past there this week. Not somewhere you personally would live.

    GEORGE REPLIES: Virginia has 95 counties but Covington is not one of them. That said, I’ll concede that the popular contention that Northampton is the poorest county in Virginia may be more folklore than fact. But there are many ways of measuring poverty, and when I read that Accomack County has a lower per capita income than Northampton, it makes me think we need a better indicator. Official tallies usually undercount migrant workers.

  7. Tyler Partin Van Marter on February 18th, 2013 10:43 am

    Being born & raised in Northampton County on the Eastern Shore of VA the CBBT toll debate is near & dear to my heart. In fact I protested the first commuter rate proposed when I was a senior in high school because like many fellow residents I had the mentality that if we were to lower the toll that meant the floodgates would open up and Hampton Roads would come spilling onto the Eastern Shore.

    Well, the first commuter rate was put into effect roughly 12 years ago and the good ole ES is still the same (which is a good thing). Let’s not overlook a few things: First it is pretty amazing that the first span built in 1964 was NOT funded by any tax dollars and cost $200,000,000. Do you think the bridge would still be maintained as wonderfully now if we depended on tax dollars state or federal? I highly doubt it.

    I don’t know the last time you drove through Va Beach/Hampton Roads but their roads are TERRIBLE! So is traffic because they are always doing road work. The same road work they’ve been doing for YEARS!

    Also, we pay enough taxes for everything else — why should we let the government take control of this beautiful bridge? Or think we need Hampton Roads to improve our own county? Think about it, whether tax dollars maintain it or tolls do, either way we pay for it. At least paying the toll, whatever price it is, I know exactly where my money goes and how it is spent.

    And let’s look at how the bridge has progressed over the years being only funded by the tolls. We now have EZ pass, they have renovated the restaurant and gift shop, there is even a rest area! Not to mention they built an entirely new span also only funded by the tolls. Think that would have happened so timely with tax dollars? Plus, the toll is not just about maintaining the CBBT but it also provides jobs for many people. You reduce or take away the toll and you are not just affecting your own pocket, which is minimal, but you are now affecting the jobs & lives of other residents.

    Secondly, let’s not blame the very embarrassing poor state of Northampton County on the CBBT toll. That is an entirely separate issue. Do we honestly think that by ditching the toll Hampton Roads will leap to action to help Northampton County? Highly unlikely.

    I am proud to be from the Eastern Shore and part of that is because of the CBBT. It is unique, it is part of the ever-interesting history of where we are from and where we are going. I agree with giving working commuters a break, but let’s stop, take a breath, and really look at this issue from all angles, not just from our own personal pockets.

    Also, let’s not compare ourselves to other states and counties. Every state/county works differently and has different funding. Just because something works for one area does not mean it will work for all areas.

    The Eastern Shore is unique — let’s keep it that way and start focusing on ways to improve Northampton County that do not involve the CBBT toll or Hampton Roads, because that is not the answer.

  8. Bobby Roberts on February 18th, 2013 12:22 pm

    Journalists work hard to get their information right–the poorest counties in Virginia information below wasn’t hard to find—you need to stop adding to bad information about Northampton County–

    Virginia Median Household Income County Rank
    Based on ACS 2006-2010 data*
    Rank Median Household Income ▲
    County / Population

    1. $29,080 Dickenson, VA / 15,966
    2. $29,155 Radford, VA / 16,318
    3. $29,183 Buchanan, VA / 24,459
    4. $31,352 Lee, VA / 25,434
    5. $32,178 Grayson, VA / 15,855
    6. $32,780 Russell, VA / 28,842
    7. $33,608 Wise, VA / 41,496
    8. $34,086 Henry, VA / 54,860
    9. $34,250 Scott, VA / 23,234
    10. $34,705 Halifax, VA / 36,311
    11. $34,720 Buckingham, VA / 16,874
    12. $34,864 Smyth, VA / 32,383
    13. $34,881 Charlotte, VA / 12,644
    14. $35,184 Brunswick, VA / 17,707
    15. $35,215 Tazewell, VA / 44,706
    16. $35,760 Northampton, VA / 12,572
    17. $35,813 Patrick, VA / 18,643
    18. $36,142 Carroll, VA / 29,985
    19. $36,191 Prince Edward, VA / 22,723
    20. $36,431 Mecklenburg, VA / 32,774

  9. Michael Petrie on February 19th, 2013 1:58 am

    5 dollars in and 5 dollars out would be good, if the CBBT commission could afford it. After all, the tunnels eventually need to be twinned, and the commission will need the money for that.

  10. Bruce Wayne Jones on February 19th, 2013 8:12 am

    Before they decide to remove tolls completely from the bridge, be sure you have in place a great zoning plan, otherwise you will see the lower part of Northampton County become an extension of Norfok/Va Beach, with traffic and strip malls galore. If you don’t want that to happen, and it surely will, you need to plan ahead and have a strong zoning plan, that cannot be usurped by the developers. Check and see who is buying up your land, if developers, watch out, you will get run over by them.

  11. Luisa Gazzolo on February 20th, 2013 12:05 pm

    I think the toll should be reduced for all motorists who have Virginia license plates. All others the toll should be paid in full and that would also have the added benefit of getting some extra money from residents who live here but spend some months in Florida and register their cars with Florida plates to avoid paying personal property tax.

  12. Dan Breeze on February 20th, 2013 1:50 pm

    Having grown up here I can say the bridge toll has little to do with crime prevention/reduction or new business growth. Years ago the toll was much less and we still did not see businesses from Norfolk/Va. Beach scrambling to get over here. Nor was there a great influx of crime. I would support a lower toll simply because it may give me more reason to go over to civilization, more than once a month, for that occasional item we just can’t get here or to visit family/friends. However, what is over there that we don’t have here?
    A lower toll wouldn’t bring an elevated crime spree nor would it help encourage business to set up shop here. It would help thoses that do use the bridge on a regular basis. I would be all for it unless a lower toll ment staff cuts or less maintenence done on the bridge. I think it is a good deal, thanks to the CBBT commission for putting it out there.

  13. Etta Robins on February 20th, 2013 7:52 pm

    The reduced “commuter” toll will only help those persons who commute to work or to frequent doctor’s or other medical appointments. The average Eastern Shore resident will not get a “break” on tolls because they only apply to those who make 30 or more trips per month, or 15 round trips to work, doctor, etc. That wil not help most people on the Eastern Shore. Those of us who work in Northampton County will most likely not make 30 trips per month. Another “fly in the ointment” is that those of us who make an occasional trip to the Hampton Roads area will have to use an EZ Pass device in order to get the current $5 return trip toll. That doesn’t feel like progress for me. I prefer cash!

  14. Gene Kelly on July 20th, 2013 12:44 pm

    Why not a reduced rate readable sticker for Northampton and Accomac residents….seems pretty simple and workable in my estimation.