SHORE THING: The Troll Under the Bridge
By GEORGE SOUTHERN
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.
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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.