- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 27, 2005

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — Virginia legislators are considering whether to impose more state control over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, which is run by a commission that has been criticized for excessive spending of toll revenues.

“The current management structure does not serve the best interests of the citizens of the commonwealth,” Delegate Thomas D. Gear, Hampton Republican, told the Daily Press in its survey of area legislators before the General Assembly session that starts Jan. 11.

Mr. Gear will propose a study of whether the 17.6-mile bridge should be sold to a private company that would collect and keep the tolls, with limits set by the state.

Other legislators suggested more state oversight of a board that is appointed by the governor but otherwise acts independently. One proposal would create an expanded commission with authority over bridges and tunnels across the state.

The Daily Press reported in June that commissioners spent toll revenue on expensive trips to attend seminars and want to spend almost $900 million for two more tunnels on the little-used span that connects Virginia Beach to the state’s Eastern Shore.

The bridge commission spent $37,625 on staff travel in 2004 and paid for commissioners and spouses to travel to Paris in 2003, at a cost of $20,000.

The trips were financed by bridge-tunnel tolls, which were raised last year to $12 each way for most vehicles.

The bridge commission has a $90 million surplus.

The General Assembly’s auditing arm has questioned the need for two new tunnels and asked bridge commissioners for a traffic study to show whether the new tunnels will be necessary in 2020, when they are slated for completion.

Sen. Marty E. Williams, Newport News Republican, said the commission should be expanded and given control over all of the region’s bridges.

The commission’s surplus, and future toll revenues, then would be spent on the highest bridge priority in the region, not just on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, he told the newspaper for an article published yesterday.

Delegate Phillip A. Hamilton, Newport News Republican, said he would prefer a new bridge commission with authority over all the state’s bridges and tunnels.

At least two state senators oppose any changes to the bridge operation because it is making money.

“Who’s to say a state bureaucracy would do any better a job than the current commission?” said Sen. Mamie E. Locke, Hampton Democrat.

Taking over the bridge-tunnel and using its revenue for other projects would amount to a raid that would undermine public trust in state legislators, said Sen. D. Nick Rerras, Norfolk Republican.

“We have a long history of promises not being kept when it comes to safeguarding the people’s money,” he said.

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