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Virginia Department of Transportation

Toll Relief: Reinventing Equity in Mobility

Virginia Department of Transportation

Award Category: 
Social Responsibility
Award Year: 


Toll Relief, the first program of its kind in the United States, provides meaningful financial relief to qualified residents who travel the Elizabeth River Tunnels in Virginia eight times or more a month and have a personal, annual income of $30,000 or less. The relief is the equivalent to as much as a 57 percent reduction in tolls. Transportation equity for those most in need has always been a challenge. With the Commonwealth planning more tolling projects, the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) committed to build public awareness of the role tolling plays in delivering funding for much-needed highway improvements, while simultaneously ensuring equity for individuals in lower socio-economic brackets. In addition to implementing an aggressive outreach program to educate the public around the need for and benefits of tolling projects, VDOT introduced Toll Relief to assist citizens facing the biggest financial impacts from tolls. In October 2016, Governor Terry McAuliffe announced that Norfolk and Portsmouth residents would receive help paying tolls on the Elizabeth River Tunnels through a new Toll Relief program. The operators of the Elizabeth River Tunnels are contributing $5.5 million over 10 years to help offset the cost of tolls on those individuals most financially stressed. The agreement is part of a broader deal to reduce the financial impact of major construction improvements for motorists in Hampton Roads.


The program was designed to provide meaningful financial relief to the most economically challenged residents of the Portsmouth/Norfolk region (annual household income < $30K) that utilize the ERC more than 8 times per month. These tunnels are the only "timely" route between the two cities and had not previously been tolled. This program allowed working citizens from lower socioeconomic households to continue using their primary route to work with a reduction in the tolls therefore, reinventing equity in tolling and mobility for the Hampton Roads area.


This program greatly reduced the concerns of stakeholders in the region regarding equity issues for financially distressed residents utilizing the newly tolled tunnels between Portsmouth and Norfolk. By implementing a local stakeholder steering committee and mounting an aggressive communications strategy, consensus was gained and support established for the buy-in of the Toll Relief program. Consequently, education around tolling increased and acceptance of tolling as a funding source grew in acceptance for the Hampton Roads area. By deploying a program which introduced "equity" into the tolling conversation, the roll out of subsequent tolled projects has met less resistance in this region. The most demonstrable result of the program was the number, over 2000, of participants/customers enrolled in the program.

In its first year in 2017, Toll Relief delivered $458,000 in financial relief to 2,094 residents. Enrollment for 2018 is over 3,000.