CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The increasing popularity of the E-ZPass system is impacting revenues on the West Virginia Turnpike.
The state Parkways Authority approved its budget for next fiscal year at its meeting Thursday in Charleston. The budget projects toll revenues to be about $81 million during the next year, which is about 1.5 to 2 percent below current levels. Parkways General Manager Greg Barr said part of the decrease can be attributed to more motorists using E-ZPass.
“When we started up with E-ZPass in 2000 we were seeing about 15 to 17 percent revenues collected from E-ZPass. Now we’re up to 35 percent and approaching 40 (percent) sometimes during the year,” Barr said Thursday.
E-ZPass is a multi-state toll discount program. When the Parkways Authority raised tolls in 2009 it included even deeper discounts in the program for frequent users.
“Truckers from out of state get a 13 percent discount with E-ZPass. Truckers from in state get a 20 percent discount with West Virginia E-ZPass. A passenger vehicle that uses E-ZPass get a 35 percent discount,” Barr said.
The Parkways Authority uses toll revenues to pay off the revenue bonds that finance the road and to pay for construction along the 88-mile highway. Barr said the toll increase, now four years old, is providing enough funds to take care of years of deferred maintenance. He said they won’t fall behind with current toll revenues but it’s something they will have to keep an eye on.
“The only way to fix that would be that if it got to such an extreme, you have to change either toll rates or discount rates, but to do that would require public hearings. It’s a major, major undertaking,” Barr said.
The approved budget projects overall revenues of nearly $82.5 million with operating expenses of $38 million. The Parkways Authority will pay $10.5 million in bond payments next budget year and be required to keep another $10 million in a replacement reserve account.
The Parkways Authority will continue to subsidize Tamarack. The Beckley-based visitors center and arts facility is projected to lose $1.3 million next fiscal year.