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2014 Life in Hampton Roads Survey, Part 4: Tolls and Traffic

Every day, multitudes of drivers traverse the 11 bridges and five tunnels in the Hampton Roads area, commuting for work, family and other activities. Some sit in traffic, some pay tolls, almost all have opinions about the regional transportation infrastructure.

The 2014 Life in Hampton Roads Survey by ODU's Social Science Research Center collected their views in part four of its five-day series: "The Changing Transportation Picture: Tolls and Traffic."

The Life in Hampton Roads survey is designed to peer into social and economic indicators of quality of life in the region, with particular focus placed on transportation and traffic, local and state government, education, health, emergency preparedness, the economy and crime.

LIHR survey reports include:

The survey's transportation report reveals a region with ongoing and substantial challenges.

Compared to previous years, 2014 had the highest percentage of respondents who have avoided visiting a business in a neighboring city due to concerns about traffic congestion (48.3 percent in 2014 compared to 44.5 percent in 2013, 40.3 percent in 2012, 43.5 percent in 2011, and 46.5 percent in 2010).

"Traffic continues to divide Hampton Roads, discouraging travel within the region." said Jesse Richman, director of the Social Science Research Center at ODU.

Tolls

The imposition of tolls on regional bridges and tunnels has led to substantial changes in traffic and commuter patterns. More than one-third of respondents (38.1 percent) said, in the past month, they avoided visiting a business in a neighboring city due to tolls on bridges or tunnels and 20 percent of respondents said they had changed their commute in order to avoid a toll. Of those who take a different route, more than two-thirds (71.4 percent) reported that their new route takes more than 10 minutes longer.

"Tolls have had a major effect on regional commutes and travel patterns," Richman said. "If they endure, these changes may create significant transportation challenges within the region."

Toll response varies substantially by income. High income survey respondents typically pay the toll. Only 26.7 percent of current or former toll bridge or tunnel commuters with family incomes over 150 thousand reported changing their commute to avoid the toll. Survey respondents with more modest incomes were much more likely to have changed their commute to avoid tolls. Most (72.0 percent) toll-affected respondents with incomes under $50,000 had changed their route.

Road Work

The survey also asked about several possible transportation projects. Many respondents supported multiple proposed highway upgrades, but the widening of Interstate 64 on the Peninsula from Jefferson Avenue to Williamsburg was rated the highest priority by most Hampton Roads' residents (57.3 percent).

Additionally, there has been a 3.7 percent increase in respondents who do not want to extend the light rail since 2013, but a majority continues to support extending light rail to the Virginia Beach oceanfront.

Bicycling

For the first time, the LIHR survey also included questions on bicycling. The results provide baseline measures of bicycle use in the region. In regards to bicycling, a majority of respondents (56.4 percent) thought Hampton Roads is either very or somewhat bicycle friendly. Residents from Norfolk (64.1 percent), Suffolk (59.2 percent), and Virginia Beach (58.6 percent) were most likely to report that Hampton Roads was somewhat to very bicycle-friendly.

"Efforts to expand bicycle routes and access may be paying off," noted Eddie Hill, of the ODU Department of Human Movement Sciences.

All Life in Hampton Roads Data Analyses will be placed on the Social Science Research Center website as they are released (www.odu.edu/ssrc).

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