Tolls are here to stay for a while

by Quinton Sheppard - Posted on Jun 06, 2018 - 12:18 PM

Photo: Hayes resident Ken Evans, a local insurance agent, was presented with a national award during Tuesday night’s Gloucester County Board of Supervisors meeting in the colonial courthouse. He received the 2016 CRS Award for Excellence for actively advancing the vision of the National Flood Insurance Program in the county, helping to achieve its excellent rating in the Community Rating System. This rating gives Gloucester residents a large discount in their flood insurance premiums. The national award is presented to only one individual each year. Shown, from left, are Gina Dicicco, state CRS coordinator; Zane Hadzick, mitigation planning specialist for FEMA Region III; Paul Koll, Gloucester’s building official; Evans, and Kristin Owen, floodplain program planner for Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation. Photo by Quinton Sheppard

Hayes resident Ken Evans, a local insurance agent, was presented with a national award during Tuesday night’s Gloucester County Board of Supervisors meeting in the colonial courthouse. He received the 2016 CRS Award for Excellence for actively advancing the vision of the National Flood Insurance Program in the county, helping to achieve its excellent rating in the Community Rating System. This rating gives Gloucester residents a large discount in their flood insurance premiums. The national award is presented to only one individual each year. Shown, from left, are Gina Dicicco, state CRS coordinator; Zane Hadzick, mitigation planning specialist for FEMA Region III; Paul Koll, Gloucester’s building official; Evans, and Kristin Owen, floodplain program planner for Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation. Photo by Quinton Sheppard

It looks like Gloucester residents and others who travel across the George P. Coleman Memorial Bridge will be on the hook for tolls through 2032.

This is according to John Lawson, chief financial officer for the Virginia Department of Transportation, who made a presentation on the Coleman tolls to the Gloucester County Board of Supervisors Tuesday night in the colonial courthouse.

For just over a year, Gloucester County Administrator Brent Fedors and Phillip Bazzani, York District representative on the Gloucester Board of Supervisors, have been meeting with high-level VDOT officials and Virginia’s Secretary of Transportation to try to come to an understanding of where things are with the tolls on the Coleman. According to Fedors, much progress has been made, closing the gap of the anticipated removal of the tolls since deliberations began.

Lawson provided a brief history of the tolls on the bridge, saying that the Virginia General Assembly authorized the issuance of $38.1 million in toll revenue bonds in 1993 for widening and improving the bridge from two lanes to its current four-lane configuration. The total cost of improvements amounted to just under $96 million.

Federal funds constituted $19.5 million while a toll revolving account provided an additional $38.2 million of funding. The revolving fund, Lawson said, was established in 1986 as part of a special session of the General Assembly to help projects like the Coleman Bridge come to fruition.

The problem is revenues have not met VDOT’s projections. The tolls brought in an estimated $6.2 million during fiscal year 2018, which is half of what was originally forecast. With the annual debt service on toll revenue bonds at $3 million and annual operating expenses of the toll facility, very little money is left to go into paying off the revolving fund.

 “We anticipate full repayment of the toll revolving fund account no later than 2032,” Lawson said. “Tolls on the bridge will cease upon retirement of all outstanding debt.”

He said this date could be moved forward if revenues exceed expenditures.

“My constituents in the county are now being left on the hook by a mistake in the 1992 forecasted growth rate,” said at-large supervisor Ashley Chriscoe. “Eighty percent of those who pay tolls are EZ-Pass customers—and almost all are Gloucester County residents.” Chriscoe added, “I’m paying an extra tax because I drive to work in York County every day.”