CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Parkways Authority is preparing to consider new proposed tolls for the state Turnpike.
The Parkways Authority is also moving toward offering the $25 flat fee for unlimited use for passenger cars first proposed by Gov. Jim Justice. And it also will soon consider millions of dollars in new bonding.
Right now, passenger vehicles pay $2 at each tollbooth along the Turnpike. West Virginians with E-ZPass have their rate lowered to $1.30.
Authority members got the first taste of what’s ahead during a finance committee meeting Tuesday morning at the Parkways Authority headquarters in Charleston.
Consultants broadly described how travelers may react to the flat rate possibility. And more consultants talked about the authority’s bonding capacity and how it may be affected by higher tolls and travelers’ reactions to changing costs.
A followup meeting will be next Thursday morning at Tamarack, where the finance board will propose a new toll schedule. A full Turnpike Authority board meeting after that may take up preliminary approval of the proposed tolls.
And still to come after that would be a series of public meetings before any implementation could occur.
The finance board has a week to crunch numbers and consider the results of a draft study, said Greg Barr, general manager of the Parkways Authority.
“The finance committee then will be prepared to ask a few more questions of the traffic engineers and make a recommendation of a preliminary toll schedule to be used for the new program we’re going to implement,” Barr said.
If the full board then adopts the toll schedule, it would go to a series of public hearings in Kanawha, Fayette, Raleigh and Mercer counties.
“People can share their comments online, on the web, they can mail in comments,” Barr said. “We’ll give all those to our committee and staff. Those will be taken into consideration for a final decision in early June of the adoption of a preliminary toll schedule.”
Consultants who spoke before the Parkways Authority’s finance board on Tuesday concluded that a long-term, flat feet of $25 for passenger cars is sustainable for Turnpike use. The fee would allow unlimited Turnpike use for a period of three years.
One of the consultants, CDM Smith, assessed surveys and frequency of use to determine how many people might want to buy the flat fee discount.
“If you use it more often, you save a little money getting it. If you don’t use it often, you might just pay the new toll rate,” Barr said.
The new rate schedule then will result in a finance package to be taken to rating agencies for the bond market. That will result in a rating on the bonds, with a goal of selling bonds in early July.
Up to $500 million in bond sales is possible.
The first sale, in July, would be $120 million.
About two years from now, when there’s a track record on the rate changes, the Parkways Authority will go back to the ratings agencies for another bond sale.
Right now, with only estimates, the second bond sale in August 2020, would be about $198 million.
So the total of the two would be $318 million.
But some factors, especially actual performance of new rates, would change matters.
“The actual performance of the traffic — will it be higher or lower than projections? — and we hope it’s higher. If it is, we’ll get closer to $500 million,” Barr said.
Barr acknowledged much more is ahead.
“We’ve still got a lot to do.”