CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Parkways Authority is recommending the current E-ZPass system be used in any tolling changes made on the West Virginia Turnpike as part of Gov. Jim Justice’s road construction plan.
Part of that plan, which has been discussed by members of the House Finance Committee the last four days, would keep the tolls on the Turnpike, increase them, and use that money along with other funds to finance a $1.6 billion bond to pay for several hundred road construction projects.
The Parkways Authority currently offers an annual unlimited use $285 E-ZPass to West Virginia motorists and those outside the state. Parkways Authority Bond Counsel Brian Helmick told the committee it makes since to continue using E-ZPass because it would avoid possible problems with the Interstate Commerce Clause in Gov. Justice’s proposal to offer an annual $8 unlimited Turnpike use program to state residents.
“Our recommendation would be to proceed, which we have to the governor’s office, with the E-ZPass program that’s already been implemented, proven, and is not subject to those challenges, at the same rates we would otherwise use, but as an opt-in program,” Helmick told the committee Thursday.
The Parkways Authority also supports placing assurances in the bill for lawmakers about future toll increases, Helmick said.
“This would mean the Parkways Authority could not increase rates, any tolls, without mandating a single fee user program under the E-ZPass program and to provide a formula under which to provide a cap,” Helmick said.
Parkways Authority General Manager Greg Barr told the committee Thursday he’s reviewed the list of projects being considered for funding by the bond issue and several are in or close to the Turnpike counties.
“I saw $671 million of projects in the counties that border the Turnpike and some of the contiguous counties in southern West Virginia,” Barr said. “Southern West Virginia wants to see that that money is being invested back into southern West Virginia in other projects. There should be something that people should see from this roads plan that’s happening in their county.”
The bill remains in the discussion stage before the finance committee.