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N.C. Off Course In Singling Out Chesapeake’s Expressway Toll

By Roger Chesley
The Virginian-Pilot
© June 27, 2011

THE Tar Heel state is spoiling for a fight with its northern neighbor. My question: Will one city in the Old Dominion respond in the same self-centered way? It will be tempted to. In May, the toll on the Chesapeake Expressway rose from $2 year-round to $6 on summer weekends. It’s now $3 weekdays and off-season.
The toll hadn’t been changed since the $116 million expressway opened in 2001. City officials said the extra money is needed to repay debt and finance expressway repairs. Chesapeake officials built the route because travelers to the Outer Banks used to cause massive summertime backups on South Battlefield Boulevard that stretched all the way to Great Bridge. Residents who lived along the road were virtually held hostage in their homes on the weekends.
After the rate hike was announced this spring, North Carolina tourism and economic development officials quickly pointed out ways to evade the higher rates. So travelers could save a few bucks, but they might get stuck in congestion before they even reached North Carolina. If time is money, that’s a costly trade-off.
A Currituck County official said in April that the county would alert residents and tourists about the rate hike. Outer Banks tourism officials updated a website (www.outerbanks.org) showing how travelers could avoid the toll. The main alternative is South Battlefield.
“It’s unfair to place that burden on the visitors,” Lee Nettles, managing director of the Outer Banks Visitors Bureau, told me Friday. “It seems blatantly targeted on Outer Banks visitors.”
Funny, but the website doesn’t list any detours for other states along the East Coast. What, there’s no need to miss tolls in Pennsylvania, New York or New Jersey? Nettles said drivers that far north have too many options for trip advice to be helpful. “You guys just happened to be close to us,” he added. Lucky us.
Still, it’s ludicrous to think beach visitors can’t afford the higher tolls along the expressway. A 2006 survey by Strategic Marketing & Research Inc. found that visitors to the Outer Banks took trips that averaged around six nights. “Overall, the ‘average’ visitor spent a total of $2,193 during their trip,” the report noted. Granted, the survey took place before the latest recession. But the numbers suggested that visitors knew they would plunk down a sizable amount when they headed to the region.
Here’s why the issue is important to Chesapeake: The Pilot reported last week on ridership statistics on the Chesapeake Expressway since the new rate took effect. Traffic was down June 17-19 about 15 percent from a similar weekend in 2010. Memorial Day counts fell more than 21 percent, from 17,700 in 2010 to 13,887 this year.
Unaudited figures, however, show the city is bringing in more toll revenues. A one-week period in June 2010 generated nearly $194,000. A comparable week this year raised $365,000, or nearly 88 percent more.
The city should see what the entire summer brings. It doesn’t want traffic on South Battlefield to return to its former gridlock. Still, it needs the expected revenue from the toll hike.
The saber-rattling between the states may have just begun.
Roger Chesley, (757) 446-2329, roger.chesley@pilotonline.com, pilotonline.com/chesley

I find it astounding that the Currituck County Commissioners and the County Tourism officials are crying foul over the increased tolls on the Chesapeake Expressway. The proposed Mid-Currituck Bridge tolls, according to the NCTA in a March 2011 document, are projecting tolls on the 2-lane, yes that’s 1 lane each way, to be $11 to $29 EACH WAY. The $29 dollar toll would be used during periods of high congestion, aka summer weekends. Is Currituck County going to advise tourists to bypass that ridiculous toll? I think not! Maybe the county wants the tourists to save all toll money incurred on their trip to the northern Outer Banks and skip the meals on the way as well, so they can afford the astronomical toll on the Mid-Currituck Bridge. Isn’t that an unfair burden that seems blatantly targeted on Outer Banks visitors?
Webmaster NoMCB.com

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