Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Another GOP Disaster: Virginia Could Pay Up to $2 Billion If Tolls Ruling Stands

Outdated and Inadequate Midtown Tunnel

As if Bob "Taliban Bob" McDonald did not already have enough problems between the ongoing FBI investigation of his cozy relationship with Star Scientific and ripping off taxpayers for personal expenses, a new article in the Virginian Pilot lays out the potential cost to Virginia of the idiotic "public-private" deal struck to build a second tube for the Midtown Tunnel.  By "public-private" the terms in reality means that select private interests get to screw the public with GOP blessing.  It's all part of the Virginia GOP's refusal to raise taxes in a meaningful way to address the state's increasingly inadequate highway system.  With a recent court ruling striking down the McDonald/GOP give away to private interests, all of us may be about to be royally screwed.  Here are story highlights:

Virginia Transportation Secretary Sean Connaughton painted a bleak financial picture for the state if a May court decision striking down planned tolls for the Midtown and Downtown tunnels is upheld, saying it could cost at least $700 million and potentially jeopardize other toll projects.

Testifying before state legislators Monday, Connaughton estimated that Virginia would be out $706 million in damages and costs incurred if it terminated the $2.1 billion contract with Elizabeth River Crossings to upgrade and operate the tunnels.

And the liability could be much higher if Virginia and its private partners move forward on the project but aren't able to collect tolls.

In that scenario, Connaughton said, Elizabeth River Crossings could pursue annual payments of $169 million for 57 years to recover lost revenue, an amount exceeding $9.6 billion. But it's unlikely Virginia would be on the hook for that much, he said, citing a worst-case figure closer to $2 billion if the state didn't terminate the deal.

Last month, Portsmouth Circuit Judge James A. Cales Jr. ruled that the General Assembly exceeded its authority by giving the state highway department broad power to set toll rates.

Del. Johnny Joannou gave voice to those frustrations Monday. His questions about the real-world impact of the tolls drew applause from audience members.

"You're talking about a lot of money from a lot of citizens. We're not just talking about money the state is putting out," he said, complaining about toll costs coupled with the lack of new capacity on the Downtown Tunnel.

Citing a still-fragile economy, Joannou criticized a deal he said would affect the lives of "a lot of people that are struggling out there to make a living."

The Virginia GOP can worry about micro-managing women's vagina's and Ken "Kookinelli" Cuccinelli can obsess over maintaining Virginia's unconstitutional sodomy statute, but these folks cannot exercise leadership in a key area of government: maintaining the state's transportation infrastructure.

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