NEWPORT NEWS -- When the phone rings, it could be a student researcher on the other end wanting to know how you expect tolls at the Midtown and Downtown Tunnels to affect you.

The survey, which people with Christopher Newport University's Wason Center on Public Policy would conduct, would begin the week of January 20 if the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization gives its okay.

Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center, describes the survey as a 'natural experiment.'

'We have an existing road that is well established. It's been around for decades and decades, tunnels that have been around for decades and decades. People's driving patterns and habits are set. Injected into the middle of that is gonna be a toll,' explained Kidd. 'What we're interested in doing is understanding what are people's habits and attitudes before that toll starts, and do they change several months after the toll has been in place.'

If HRTPO approves the contract for the survey when its board meets Thursday, student from the center's Survey Research Lab would call 600 people in the 5 Southside cities. Those people would be selected randomly. The largest number would come from Portsmouth and Norfolk, the cities in which HRTPO data shows the majority of tunnel users live. Chesapeake and Suffolk follow, in terms of usage. Virginia Beach ranks fifth.

'We're not really asking, 'Do you like tolls, or do you not like tolls?' What we're asking people is, 'How do you typically commute? What are your expected changes once these tolls start?' Kidd told 13News Now. ''Do you expect to carpool more than you do now? Do you expect to take the bus more than you do now? Do you expect to try and drive different routes?''

The surveyors would collect that information and present it to the HRTPO. Then, about 2 months after tolling starts, the students would make 600 random calls, again, to see if people's driving habits and attitudes about the tolls, including EZ-Pass, changed, and if so, how.

The students would present the information from that second round of calls and their conclusions to HRTPO.

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