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.