CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The Tomblin administration is trying to assure state lawmakers a bill that would set up a framework for the electronic tolling of highways is in no way connected to the West Virginia Turnpike.
“This bill is not in any way, shape or form intended to affect the employment of the toll collectors on the West Virginia Turnpike. They are absolutely necessary to the Turnpike,” Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s assistant chief of staff and Parkways Authority Chairman Jason Pizatella said during a legislative public hearing last week. “This bill does not change the law with respect to the future of the tolls on the Turnpike in any way.”
Advocates of the bill, first introduced in 2009, say electronic tolling would “benefit the citizens of the state by making parkways projects in the state safer and more efficient.” The measure is up for first reading on the floor of the House of Delegates Monday.
State Transportation Secretary Paul Mattox said more states may be adding toll roads with the decrease in federal highway funding.
“There’s a lot of talk in Congress of allowing states to toll, like maybe interstate facilities, because there’s not an appetite to increase taxes or fees,” Mattox said.
He said it would also be a good tool in the state’s public-private partnership road-building program. Mattox emphasized there are currently no plans for new toll roads in the state.
Mattox said the system would have helped a few years ago when West Virginia opened its section of the Mon-Fayette Expressway in Morgantown. He said, Pennsylvania, which collects a toll on its section of the highway, could have collected money for West Virginia if there was electronic toll enforcement here.
But Del. Marty Gearheart (R-Mercer) was skeptical. He said he believes the bill would apply to the West Virginia Turnpike.
“It’s the only toll road here in the state,” Gearheart said. “If it doesn’t apply to the West Virginia Turnpike, we are contemplating a bill that has no application and I’m not sure why there would be any urgency to do that.”
More than 30 states have electronic toll enforcement systems.