BECKLEY, W.Va. — The West Virginia Parkways Authority is recommending tolls double on the West Virginia Turnpike but a deeply discounted single fee program would be made available to motorists.
At a meeting Thursday at Tamarack, the authority voted to present the proposal to residents at four public meetings set for next month. A resolution detailing the plan passed unanimously.
The money raised from the increase will finance more than $300 million in bonds to pay for road construction projects in 10 southern West Virginia counties. The bonds would be paid off over 30 years.
The proposal includes a new Single Fee Discount Program that would cost a total of $24 for three years in a one time only offer. In order to get that price, residents would have to sign up before the end of this year during an early enrollment period. The annual pass would cost $25 a year for everyone signing up beginning Jan. 1, 2019 and after. Those taking advantage of the one-time rate of $24 would be charged the annual fee after the three-year period. The discount program only applies to passenger vehicles.
There will be a fee for a transponder for the new program. Existing EZ pass customers will be able to have their current transponders adjusted.
For those motorists without the new pass or the regular EZ Pass tolls will basically double; from $2 to $4 for passenger vehicles and doubling for the various commercial classes. Existing EZ pass discounts would remain in place.
A 2017 bill passed by state lawmakers and signed into law by Gov. Jim Justice opened the door for the changes, part of Justice’s Road to Prosperity program. Justice first talked about an annual single fee pass for about $8 a year. The bill approved by lawmakers set the range between $8 and $25 annually.
“I think the governor’s idea here was to really help out the West Virginians and basically give them free tolls,” Parkways Authority General Manager Greg Barr said. “If you use the road more than once a year you save money.”
It’s proposed that $133 million in bonds be sold this July with a second bond sale for $218 million to be completed in July 2020. Of the total $351 million in bonds, $318 million would be used on projects in the 10 southern counties and $33 million on Parkways projects. The money from the rest of the toll increase would finance the operation of the 88-mile toll road. The program is expected to bring in about $25 million in additional revenue a year.
Barr said although a lot of the money is going for projects not connected to the Turnpike, the highway will not be ignored.
“We have to go to these rating agencies to sell these bonds so we’re going to make darn sure that the Turnpike has the proper maintenance reserves and is well taken care of,” Barr said.
Tolls were last raised on the 88-mile toll road in September 2009.
The final adoption of the resolution is expected at a Parkways Authority meeting tentatively set for June 7. The public meetings will be held in Kanawha, Fayette, Raleigh and Mercer counties in May. They are tentatively set for May 10, 11, 14, 15. Times and locations to be announced.
Before Thursday’s vote, Parkways Authority member Bill Seaver, of Mercer County, called the proposed changes “a good trade off for our citizens in southern West Virginia.” Seaver said they’ve supported the Turnpike for years and now they’ll get millions of dollars in road projects in their counties.
Delegate Ricky Moye, D-Raleigh, who was at the meeting, agreed.
“There are a lot of roads that we have needed to repair that now we are going to have money to where before we didn’t have money for them and that helps everybody,” Moye said. “I see the positive out of this is that Raleigh County residents will get a very reduced rate on the Turnpike which they have supported for ages.”
The resolution passed Thursday does give the ability for the Parkways Authority to raise the $25 fee for the Single Fee Discount Program by 1.6 percent a year or by five percent every there years if necessary.