Tunnel Tolls on the Mind

Since I’ve moved here, there seems to be one subject with folks I talk to in Portsmouth that seems to always strike a nerve:

Tunnel tolls.

Let’s get a few things out of the way: the tolls are coming.  The way they came about are sketchy at best.  Starting February 1st, the whole region will be paying tolls for crossing two major access points into the City of Portsmouth: the Downtown Tunnel and the Midtown Tunnel.  Apparently there are alternative routes that are both “reasonable” and “free” for people to use.  But, if you factor in costs of operating a car and gas, both are neither reasonable or free.

Right or wrong, legal or illegal though, the reality is that the beginning of these tolls, which will be a reality for the next 56 years, is that it will affect real people.  As a church, that’s our chief concern.  We can’t do a whole lot about the politics, laws, and legislation (or in this case, lack of) that made these tolls a reality.

What we can speak on though, is the lack of regard for people – both on how this affects their lives and for how people are thought of.  The first one is pretty simple to comprehend (see the link to the article about people above).  There is an economic impact that will affect the livelihood of folks living in the region.  But it will affect people on a deeper level too.

In P-Town:
– The elderly who receive home health care may see a decrease in that care, because their are less workers, and less quality health care aids available.
– People at or near self-sustaining with their income will likely fall below that, considering the average costs of cross the tunnels for work.
– A growing and developing downtown area will see a decrease in business and development.
– And if you look at a map, the tunnels are the major access point into the city.  Without them, it essentially cuts off Portsmouth from the rest of the Hampton Roads region.  Tolling them, cuts Portsmouth off economically from the rest of the region.

The second issue has to do with Elizabeth River Crossings, the company that is contracted to do the project.  To promote the EZPass method of tolling, they have an aggressive ad campaign going on both radio and TV, encouraging people to buy an EZPass, and that “it’s the most efficient and affordable way to go.”

But when I watch and listen to ads such as these, I can’t help but feel insulted.

Apparently everyone who opposes or dislikes the tolls is an penny-pinching, unintelligent, unreasonable, ridiculous, idiot.  Because they would resort to idiotic extremes to cross – motorcycle ramp jumping, hand gliding, motorboat, rubber raft, snorkeling, to name a few – rather than use what the company thinks is a no-nonsense, no-brainer, easy and fun way to go – the tolled tunnels.  Apparently, if you were an intelligent human being, you’d come to the conclusion that using an EZPass is not only logical, but actually fun and enjoyable.

And that is dehumanizing.

For anyone or any company to reduce someone, to insult people’s intelligence by telling them how they should feel is dehumanizing.  It doesn’t show a shred of respect or regard for the other, for their personhood.   Because there’s plenty examples – more extreme than this one – when an institution or ideology dehumanized people, and the results were black marks on human history.  African-American Civil Rights.  Nazi Germany.  Westboro Baptist Church.

I’m not saying that the tunnel tolls are the same as these examples.  Not even close.  But I do know this:

We get that the tolls are a reality, and there’s little we can do about that.
We get that we’ll probably have to buy an EZPass and pay the tolls.
We don’t like waiting in lines, so some of us will buy them after February 1st when the tolls begin.
We get that they’ll probably become a way of life and we’ll adjust to that.

But what we don’t have to change is our opinion that we think they’re wrong.  And we don’t have to change how we feel…we don’t have to like them.

For that, people of faith can never stand.  God speaks out against dehumanization because God values humanity.  We may not be able to enact worldly change, but we can enact change by giving voice and making sure there’s space for that voice to be heard.

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