RICHMOND(AP)--The Virginia Attorney General's Office has appealed a state judge's ruling that tolling the tunnels from Portsmouth to Norfolk is unconstitutional.

Attorney General Cuccinelli also asked the court on Tuesday to expedite the appeal.

Portsmouth Circuit Judge James A. Cales Jr. ruled in favor of a group of businesses and residents that sued in 2012 claiming the Virginia Department of Transportation and Elizabeth River Crossings don't have the authority to impose taxes. The lawsuit claimed the tolls are taxes because the existing Downtown and Midtown tunnels' construction costs have been paid.

In Tuesday's filing, Cuccinelli said the tolls are for a single project so the tolls cannot be considered a tax. Furthermore, VDOT has full authority to set reasonable tolls to pay for the construction, operation, and maintenance of the projects under the Public-Private Transportation Act, he said in a news release.

VDOT's legal argument in the case is that the revenues raised through the tunnel tolls are user fees to be used solely for a single transportation project involving the two tunnels and the MLK Freeway connecting them.

The attorney general's office also filed a motion to stay the lower court's ruling to allow tolls on the two tunnels as contractually scheduled beginning Feb. 1, 2014, even if the Supreme Court hasn't issued a ruling by then.

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