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June 10, 2009

Mr. E. Dana Dickens
Chairman, Independent Review Panel
Midtown Tunnel/Downtown Tunnel/MLK Extension PPTA Project
C/O Virginia Department of Transportation
1401 East Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23219

Dear Chairman Dickens:

The Ghent Neighborhood League (“GNL”) appreciates the opportunity to provide the following comments and questions for consideration by the Independent Review Panel (“IRP”). We understand that the ERC will present its final remarks to the IRP regarding the project and its conceptual proposal. Given that this may be the final opportunity for the IRP to develop a conclusion for the advancement of ERC’s conceptual proposal to the next phase in the procurement process, we respectfully submit the following as issues and concerns to be evaluated prior to the IRP making its final conclusions.

Representatives from SKANSKA recently met with represetatives of our Board on April (DATED), 2009 and addressed the GNL monthly meeting on April 20, 2009. The Ghent Neighborhood League was also invited by the West Ghent Civic Association to attend and participate in its Special Meeting on May 7, 2009 at which representatives for SKANSKA and VDOT presented.

There were a number of questions and community concerns raised at all three meetings. However, most questions and concerns expressed by Ghent residents and property owners were focused on three major issues:

  1. Traffic and increased traffic volume
  2. The cost of the tolls / potential loss of public transportation funds
  3. How light rail would be integrated into this proposed project.

I. A concern about existing and projected future traffic volume was noted numerous times. While the new tunnel proposal seeks to address the existing congestion on Hampton Boulevard, it does not yet address the volume of traffic on the primary and secondary roads through and along our neighborhood leading to Hampton Boulevard and the Midtown Tunnel. SKANSKA officials projected a 25% increase in the volume of vehicles with the new tunnel, though no mention was made of the burden it would place on our local neighborhood roads nor the additional noise, decreased air quality and potential safety risks. Further, there is a long standing problem of truck traffic on Hampton Boulevard which does not appear to be addressed by the proposal and even with the toll a second tube and less congestion may make Hamptom Boulevard an even more attractive route for commercial trucks than the current alternative routes.

II. The toll will be an additional tax for citizens. Members of our community have raised concerns regarding the cost of the toll which were estimated at three dollars each way. For taxpayers using it for commuting purposes that could mean a new costs of $1,200 or more per year. Our Elected Representatives have already raised this concern to the Panel and we also join them and other neighborhoods in this concern.

Another unanswered question is what will happen to the transportation funds that are used for the current maintenance expenses of the Midtown and Downtown Tunnels. With SKANSKA taking responsibility for maintenance, there is suspicion that those current taxpayer funds would be diverted away from Hampton Roads and at the end of the lease, tolling would continue despite fulfilling the obligation for the tunnel construction.

III. Concerns were raised that the Midtown Tunnel plan does not adequately accomodate the potential future use of the tunnel for light rail. According to SKANSKA it has been given the direction by VDOT “not to preclude light rail” but as further explained at the aforementioned West Ghent meeting , adding light rail would mean using one of the existing or new lanes. We are concerned that with the SKANSKA proposal being for two lanes in the new tube, if one lane is subsequently utilized for light rail the residents of both cities will end up no better off than are we are currently. In fact, worse since we would have just one lane to Portsmouth and a $3 toll for that privilege.

As the GNL participated in the West Ghent meeting, as part of our submission, we are incorporating the attached document titled “WEST GHENT CIVIC LEAGUE, Minutes of the May 7, 2009 Special Meeting re: Midtown Tunnel Expansion”. This document was previously submitted to the IRP by the West Ghent Civic League. For the Panel’s attention, we have highlighted all the community concerns from that meeting for which no substantive answer was given, which an incomplete answer was given or where the responder acknowledged further study or consideration was required. Given the length of unresolved issues, we respectfully request the IRP request further clarification and details on these items from the SKANKA and/or VDOT.

The above comments and input should not be interpreted as meaning that the Ghent Neighborhood League is opposed to use a public/private partnership to expand the tunnel. However we do wish to express that at this point in the process of a proposed tunnel expansion it is not at all clear how we as the neighborhood at the gateway to the tunnel will be impacted and what changes would be merited or mitigation will be needed.

The Ghent Neighborhood appreciates the opportunity to participate in this process and to submit to the IRP these questions and concerns. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact the GNL at the above noted address or via email at gnl@ghentneighborhoodleague.org.

Sincerely,

Joan McEnery
President
Ghent Neighborhood League

GNL submission to ERC IRP
Attachment to GNL submission to ERC IRP

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