CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike are projected to drawn down $91 Million dollars in the coming fiscal year. A huge chunk of that will go into major improvements of the highway going forward.
“Out of a $90 Million budget, $40 Million is going back into capital improvements to the roadway,” said Parkways Authority General Manager Greg Barr. “Almost half of all the money we bring in is poured back into the road in the form of paving, bridge painting, bridge deck replacement , and bridge retrofit.”
The work, according to Barr, is never ending. However, the aim of planners is to fix things before they area broken.
“We’re trying to get away from being reactive and only getting things repaired when they break,” Barrr explained. “To being proactive and keeping things running smoothly to keep from having any unexpected calamities of breakdowns.”
The legislature authorized an increase in the tolls on the Turnpike in 2009. It was the first increase in tolls since 1981. Barr said it was sorely needed for long term maintenance and now eight years later the evidence of that plan is visible to motorists.
“We pledged to implement a 10 year paving program,” he recalled. “At the end of the ten years, which would be 2019, we would have all of the pavement on the Turnpike in good to excellent condition. We’re right on target and as a matter of fact may finish a little bit early.”
He expected to have all of the highway resurfaced by summer 2018. The next step will be to start a schedule of replacing the decks on the 116 bridges on the highway, a process which will take several decades, but one that is also very necessary.
“By 2019, over 80 percent of those bridges will be over 40 years old,” Barr explained. “We’ve got to get deck replacement started on a scheduled basis so we can get that done.”
The Yeager Bridge and the Bluestone Bridge will also need a paint job in the next five to seven years, both at a cost estimated at $15 Million.
The budget breakdown, according to Barr, is $11 Million annually for debt service, $40 Million in capital improvements, and $40 Million for operations and maintenance. The last line item includes payroll for toll workers, snow and ice removal, operations of the visitors center, mowing and general upkeep, and the State Police. He worries about the plans by the legislature to eliminate tolls in the years ahead.
“Most of that revenue is coming from out of state,” Barr said. “If the tolls were to be removed, that would put that burden back on West Virginia and its citizens.”