CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The first project to be funded by $1.6 billion in bonds approved for highway work last fall by West Virginia voters will be an eight-mile widening of the West Virginia Turnpike in Beckley.
State Transportation Secretary Tom Smith said Thursday the project, expected to cost about $100 million, can proceed to construction later this year because the bulk of the engineering work took place several years ago when the West Virginia Parkways Authority first considered the project.
Plans are to construct a third lane both northbound and southbound between the U.S. 19 intersection and the I-64/I-77 split, Parkways Authority General Manager Greg Barr said.
“Traffic is getting heavier and heavier, a lot of trucks, and there’s weaving of traffic in and around trucks, in and around slower traffic and it’s just a dangerous situation especially in the summers and around holidays,” Barr said.
The Parkways Authority first considered the project back in 2006 but decided at the time it was too expensive.
The money to pay for the work will come from the first wave of bonds, authorized in last October’s statewide vote, which expected to be sold sometime in May. The first wave will be about $800 million, Smith said. Other bond sales will take place in 2019 ($400 million), 2020 ($200 million) and 2021 ($200 million). The $1.6 billion will pay for dozens of large road and bridge projects.
A lot of the larger projects will be design-build with construction beginning on some of them in 2019, Smith said.
Gov. Jim Justice’s ‘Roads to Prosperity’ plan also includes hundreds of millions of dollars in Garvee bonds. Smith said $260 million in Garvee bonds were sold last fall and work will start this spring on 13 separate interstate reconstruction projects covering approximately 100 miles. The Garvee bonds will also pay for bridge work. Another $150 million in Garvee bonds are scheduled to be sold later this year, Smith said.
A third component of the plan, proposed by Gov. Justice and approved by state lawmakers last year, will allow the Parkways Authority to take $500 million in bonds to market over the next few years. The first wave scheduled this April. The money will go toward road projects in 10 southern West Virginia counties. Smith said Thursday the first project with that money will be major improvements to U.S. Route 10 from Man to Oceana.
Meanwhile, the Parkways Authority will decide in February on how the turnpike’s tolling structure will be changed to pay off the bonds. A new state law calls for an annual flat flee to be made available to passenger vehicle motorists between $8 and $25 a year. The fee approved by the authority will then determine how much tolls will go up on other vehicles, Barr said.
“At the February meeting we’re going to have to adopt a preliminary toll schedule and flat rate schedule and then notice public meetings and then share that and all of the studies with the public,” Barr said.