MetroNews staff photo

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It could one day be up to future governors and lawmakers in West Virginia to decide if the state is going to begin putting tolls on parts of the interstate system that run through the Mountain State.

President Barack Obama’s recently introduced Grow America Act includes a proposed state option to lift the current restriction of tolling existing interstates. West Virginia Parkways Authority General Manager Greg Barr said it’s an option states haven’t had before.

“It says you can toll existing interstates to fund renovation, repairs and maintenance, of the existing interstates or to relieve congestion in the big city areas,” Barr said.

President Obama’s plan would have to get congressional approval before the states could consider it but Barr said it raises an interesting discussion point.

“Then the states can determine whether they need to or want to do it or not. It’s just another tool in the toolbox for states because there’s a lack of funding,” Barr said.

The Parkways Authority learned last week that unless Congress takes action the existing federal Highway Trust Fund would be out of money by this fall.

“People are struggling in Congress and the administration on how they are going to come up with the money needed to pay for the infrastructure needs of this country and that’s why I think they are even crossing over that taboo of no tolls on existing interstates,” Barr said.

West Virginia has one toll road, the West Virginia Turnpike, which carries sections of interstates 77 and 64. The current bonds paid for by the tolls are scheduled to be paid off in 2019 but there remains the question could the state afford to take over maintenance of the highway? Keeping the tolls on has been attractive because most of the users are from outside of West Virginia.

Barr said the old way to pay for highways has in many ways dried up. He said taxes in West Virginia can’t keep up with the needs.

“West Virginia is blessed with a lot of interstates but how do you tax 1.9 million West Virginians to take care of all of them?” Barr asked. “There’s just not enough money there. You just can’t tax people that much. It’s a dilemma.

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  • Hillboy

    I know the general sentiment on this MB is that every tax dollar collected is a dollar wasted. However, I think we need to at least acknowledge that WV has some major built-in disadvantages when it comes to highway maintenance. WV is probably close to the top of the list of states when it comes to the ratio of highway miles to population. And, because of our border-to-border hilly terrain it costs more to build an average mile of highway here than practically any other state. Almost all other states have some sections that are relatively flat. Also, because we are a wet state with a fluctuating freeze-thaw winter climate we are probably the buckle on the pot-hole belt.

    I'm not a big fan of turning interstates into toll roads. It would, however, raise considerable money from out-of-state users to help take some of the heavy burden off of residents.

    • The bookman

      Good points hillboy, and I agree that our lack of infrastructure is a huge impediment to our ability to move forward. Our roads need an all of the above solution in terms of funding, including efficient utilization of private industry in maintenance and construction, tolls, prioritization of highways, bonds, and yes taxes. I believe the public would support most of what the politicians fear to address as long as they know the dollars will improve access instead of being wasted.

      • ViennaGuy

        Bookman, I am wondering how much money would be freed up if all WV interstates had tolls placed on them(with the possible exception of I-70 through Wheeling, which is just 14 miles).

        I am not opposed to tolls on the interstates if the tolls are reasonable.

  • Gary Karstens

    It costs more to run things these days. Get over it! Government is doing a great job and needs revenues to continue to do a great job.

    • Randy

      Why (or how) do you bring stupidity to every news story no matter what the subject? Yes.Government does need revenue. WV just got MUCH NEEDED uniform gun laws. So glad we can add your name to the kudos card our state government deserves on that one. Really glad you support our government's (county) to let a woman who has been the victim of a serial domestic abuser to defend herself with a firearm. Glad we don't have to throw a bucket of water on you and Danny Jones to get you two undoglocked. Tongue and cheek. I mean my comments, not Mayor Jones and your physical front to rear lineal proximity to each other. Sometimes government does a great job. Do you give credit across the board? Yeeeeeeesssssshhhhhhhhh.

  • Gordon

    Yet another tax on people that actually work. We have to use these roads daily in order to work to pay our other taxes!!!

    And wont miss this tax. Pay it or end up buying more fuel taking a different road and they collect it through the gas tax.

  • Craig

    How about quit giving away billions of dollars to other countries. Whats up with that. Could it be that kick back is involved when we give Ubanstackstan 100 million dollars?

  • Aaron

    This is the single biggest issue in the state in my humble opinion. Not only do we need to provide a funding mechanism to maintain our current infrastructure, we need to find a source of income to update our infrastructure to meet future needs.

    Politicians can talk all they want about jobs but if employees do not have decent roads to get them to work in reasonable amount of time, employers will have difficulty in finding those employees.

    • Wowbagger

      These yahoos want to squirrel away taxes from new oil and gas operations into funds for the far distant future and raise taxes for current expenses. This money is there, but they don't plan to use it. At the same time, all of the businesses that service and own the new wells are just across the border in Pennsylvania because they get a better tax deal and a much better legal framework.

      The folks working in these offices including those working at West Virginia well sites are paying Pennsylvania income taxes on huge salaries, but the fools in the legislature ignore this potential revenue stream.

      • Aaron

        It's because we have no leadership. They buckled when raising well fees from $600 to $10,000 was attempted to raise money to pay for inspectors by saying it would stop production due to the cost. Horsehockey. West Virginia politicians are following the same play book on gas that they did on coal and the people who will suffer are local citizens due to road damage, unsafe work practices and shortcuts. I support extracting the fuels but it should be taxed accordingly.

  • Todd

    People better get over the fact that we are going to fork over more money to have descent roads. Whether it's toll's, tax by the mile or some other tax increase, it's destined to happen.

  • Wowbagger

    A couple of issues:

    1). The interstate system wasn't designed to be a system of toll roads and might be difficult to convert due to the number of interchanges. I have experience with the modern system utilized on the 407 ETR around Toronto, ON the equipment is fully automated, but still appears expensive.

    2). Transponders and the more modern automated license plate readers rightfully raise privacy concerns.

    3) Foiling automated plate readers is a cottage industry in upstate New York adjacent to areas in Ontario with automated license plate readers. Even without any covering the readers often fail and the default solution is downcharging the toll.

    4) There are some issues due to the original rationale of building the interstate system as a national defense highway system and the postal clause of the US Constitution that need to be explored.

    • Randy

      True it wasn't designed to be a toll road. Actually in large part it was part of national security besides being for domestic transportation. Our portion is more expensive to maintain than average. Nothing can ever be all equal, but it is an interesting topic about fair federal responsibility.

  • Jeff

    How about we only maintain the roads 1.9 million people can afford to maintain? Problem solved.

    • ViennaGuy

      Nah, we can't do that. It makes too much sense. And it doesn't get politicians re-elected, lol.

      • TCeer

        How do we keep electing politicians who keep taxing us to death?

        • ViennaGuy

          Is it that we keep electing politicians who tax us to death, or is it that we keep electing politicians who promise the sun, the moon, and the stars with no way to pay for it?

          A politician who campaigns on "We have to prioritize, which means your road is not getting fixed" will never be elected.

  • know

    yeah that's the main problem with everything is the fact they're called lawmakers. they need to be problem solvers its like this because the lawmakers all they ever do is write new laws and complicate the hell out of everything when the only thing they really should be doing is trying to fix the existing problems

  • CaptainQ

    Wouldn't surprise me if WV made EVERY Interstate highway within its borders a 'toll road' very soon. The state needs to get more money somehow so our lawmakers in Charleston can WASTE IT!

    • Philly

      Good point Captain. Taxes are subject to special interests. Tolls are governed by bond trust indentures which restrict use of those funds to only that particular asset etc. Makes you think that ultimately WV politicians won't pursue tolls because they won't be able to manipulate the $$.