CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Governor Earl Ray Tomblin could receive the final report from his Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways, focused on ways to pay for West Virginia’s future road needs, as early as this week.
The recommendations would keep tolls in place on the West Virginia Turnpike, the 88-mile long highway in southern West Virginia, to generate as much as $1 billion to pay for future construction and maintenance work on the Turnpike along with roads across the Mountain State.
Jan Vineyard, president of the West Virginia Oil Marketers and Grocers Association and a Commission member, defended the proposal after traveling the state for public meetings in nine cities.
“I think that’s our only option and it looks to be like one that most people feel like is okay,” she said. “Even in that area (the Turnpike counties), I think most people feel like that it’s okay because we’ve got to continue to have good, safe, efficient highways in West Virginia.”
The current bonds for the Turnpike, which runs through Mercer, Raleigh, Fayette and Kanawha counties, are scheduled to be paid off in 2019.
Vineyard said she supports the continuation of the tolls beyond that date, and toll increases in the future, because the Parkways Authority, which runs the Turnpike, estimated more than 75 percent of the traffic on the Turnpike comes from outside of the state.
She said that means state residents would not be solely responsible for keeping West Virginia’s roads in driving shape.
“We’re making it as painless as we can make it on the West Virginia citizens,” said Vineyard. The plan calls for 25 percent of the toll money generated to stay in the Turnpike counties and state residents would also be eligible for toll discounts.
To be implemented, the recommendations from the Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways will have to have the approval of Governor Tomblin and the Legislature. The 2014 Regular Legislative Session begins in January.