CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Parkways Authority won’t make a decision until March on the proposed new tolls for the West Virginia Turnpike.
The authority is still waiting on a traffic engineering study that will provide the key information in setting the new toll rates that will be used to finance $500 million in road construction projects in 10 southern West Virginia counties.
Completing the study has taken the traffic engineers longer than expected, Parkways Authority General Manager Greg Barr said.
“They’re finding it very complicated to calculate what the adoption rate will be for the new single fee program,” Barr said.
State lawmakers adopted Gov. Jim Justice’s plan last year that will allow West Virginia and out-of-state motorists to purchase a deeply discounted annual pass to be used on the highway’s three toll plazas. The new state law says the fee can fall anywhere between $8 and $25 a year. Predicting how many motorists will purchase the discounted pass get very complicated, Barr said.
“They have to build in how many West Virginia people they think will transition and buy that new pass and how many out-of-state people will buy it. That affects what new toll rates will be,” Barr said.
The new state law authorizes the Parkways Authority to sell up to $500 million in bonds to finance the projects in the 10 southern counties but Barr said he expects the authority to be conservative at first and only take $130 million in bonds to market this year.
Barr said after two years of real data the authority can back to the rating agencies and show them there is enough revenue under the new tolls to take the rest of the bonds to market.
“I’m hopeful that the rates that we set now will actually perform even better than expected then we can go to the market again and not have to change the toll rates again,” Barr said.
The first $130 million will go toward a King Coal Highway bridge in Mercer County, safety improvements on state Route 10 from Man to Oceana and a lot bridge work.
The final traffic and revenue report is expected to be adopted in March with the Parkways Authority adopting a preliminary toll schedule. Public meetings in the Turnpike counties would be held in April.