Hampton Roads Third Crossing Bridge-Tunnel Commission
November 3, 2000, Norfolk
The commission heard four briefings: one on the relationship between efforts to clean up the Elizabeth River and the Third Crossing Project and planned port expansion on Craney Island, and three on financing options for the Third Crossing Project.
Although its condition has improved somewhat in recent years, the Elizabeth River remains the most toxic tributary of the Chesapeake Bay, and any detrimental impact by the Third Crossing Project or planned port expansion on Craney Island on the Elizabeth River would not only hamper efforts to improve the environmental quality of the river, but would similarly affect Chesapeake Bay clean-up efforts. To accommodate port expansion, the Elizabeth River would have to be considerably narrowed and deepened (as compared to its natural condition), and this would interfere with the ability of the river's tide naturally to flush out some of its pollutants. The Elizabeth River Project has requested extensive modeling of the entire Elizabeth River system to minimize adverse environmental impacts.
Expensive as the Third Crossing Project might be, it is only one of the projects included in the most recently approved regional transportation plan for Hampton Roads, whose total cost is estimated, by the year 2020, to exceed $13 billion. By comparison, revenue projections forecast that only $10.1 billion will be available to meet these costs, even assuming imposition of (i) an average per-vehicle toll of $1.50 for use of the Third Crossing, (ii) an average per-vehicle toll of $1.00 per vehicle for use of U.S. Route 460 between Petersburg and Bowers Hill, and (iii) a regional motor fuels tax of $0.12 per gallon (in addition to current federal and state motor fuel taxes).
The cost of the Third Crossing Project, previously stated as approximately $2.7 billion in 1999 dollars, would, by the time of its completion, be approximately $4.4 billion. This figure would be even larger if the project were not constructed in an overlapping time sequence, as discussed at the commission's previous meeting.
Alternative toll schemes for the Hampton Roads crossings (including the existing Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel, the James River Bridge, the Monitor-Merrimac Memorial Bridge Tunnel, and the Third Crossing), or the Third Crossing only, were presented. With a toll on the Third Crossing alone, the per-vehicle-trip charge would need to be $6.50 (with no demand suppression), or as high as $13.00 (needed to achieve suppress demand by 50 percent). A toll of $1.50 per vehicle-trip and a regional motor fuel tax of $0.12 per gallon would, over a fourteen-year construction cycle, generate revenue surpluses in the early years, but by the end of construction, would still fall $144 million short of required debt service. This scenario addressed only interest payments (assuming a rate of six percent for 25 years), and did not address repayment of principal.
At the conclusion of these presentations, the chairman announced his intention of holding the commission's next meeting in conjunction with a meeting of the General Assembly's Hampton Roads Caucus, most likely at 4:00 p.m. on January 15, 2001, in the General Assembly Building in Richmond.