EXCLUSIVE: Virginia P3 office welcomes court victory

Virginia’s Office of Transportation Public-Private Partnerships (OTP3) has welcomed the state supreme court’s decision to rule in its favor on the controversial Midtown and Downtown tunnels lawsuit.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with PPP Bulletin, the OTP3 unanimously backed the decision to rule on the state department of transportation’s (VDOT) side over toll charging on the closed P3 projects.

"We are very pleased with the decision as we believed the merits of the case spoke for themselves," said OTP3 program manager Jackie Cromwell.

"We were prepared for the potential outcomes of the case depending on which way the decision fell, although we remained positive that we had dotted our Is and crossed our Ts."

The P3 deal for the Downtown and Midtown tunnels and the Elizabeth River Crossing reached financial close with Skanska Construction and Macquarie Group in December 2011.

However, the OTP3 and VDOT have been embroiled in a year-long bitter struggle with citizens and the city of Portsmouth and nearby Hampton Roads region, which accused the departments of behaving "unconstitutionally" through the use of toll charging.

The lawsuit was originally brought by lobby group Citizens Against Unfair Tolls in the summer last year, which claimed that the charging of tolls by unelected organizations, such as VDOT, were a form of taxation.

This claim was then upheld in May when Portsmouth Circuit Judge James A. Cales Jr. ruled in their favor.

However, this decision was overruled on Thursday when the Virginia Supreme Court ruled that tolls were akin to user fees, citing that drivers are not forced by the government to pay tolls or use the tunnels.