BECKLEY, W.Va. — Big changes to tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike are becoming reality after the Parkways Authority’s approval of a new toll schedule.
The authority met Thursday morning at the Beckley-Raleigh County Convention Center to vote on the proposal. After a brief discussion about public comments acquired through a serious of hearings across southern West Virginia, the authority voted unanimously to approve the plan.
“Basically, the decision has been made to adopt that new toll schedule,” said Parkways Authority General Manager Greg Barr. “So now it’s going to be part of all of these documents that are generated that we’re going to present to the rating agencies, present to the investors. They’re going to see what the rates are going to be, what the toll schedule is, what the revenue projections are.”
Phase one of the revenue bonds will be issued in July.
“We have to finalize the bond documents, we still have to go to the rating agencies, we have to present the adopted toll schedule to the rating agencies and they have to review it. They’re going to rate the bonds, which affects the interest rate on the bonds. We’ll have to go to the bond market, sell the bonds and then distribute that money to the DOH (Department of Highways) who will spend that money on projects in southern West Virginia.”
Some of those projects include improvements to Route 10 through multiple southern counties and completing John Nash Boulevard to Airport Road in Mercer County.
“We’re going to make sure all of those bond proceeds are spent in the counties that have a nexus to the West Virginia Turnpike. So they pick the four counties the turnpike runs through and then the counties around those counties. So you get like ten counties that this bond money has to be spent in. At least the people that are paying the tolls here will see some improvements in roads and bridges in their neck of the woods.”
Under the plan approved Thursday, tolls will double for those not using the new single-fee transponder. For example, the typical $2 paid at one of the turnpike’s three mainline plazas will go to $4 for passenger vehicles. Larger vehicles such as tractor trailers and motor homes would also be put on a new schedule.
Tolls at the North Beckley toll plaza, where the turnpike intersects with U.S. Route 19, are being rounded up to the nearest 25-cent mark. This makes it easier for motorists paying with cash to look for spare change.
“So that will be 75-cents instead of 80-cents or a $1.50 instead of $1.60. It’s a minor adjustment but it will keep traffic from backing down,” Barr said during a Wednesday interview on MetroNews “Talkline”.
Barr said the most talked-about part of the recent public comments was the single-fee transponder program. Motorists will be able to pay $24 for unlimited passenger car use of the turnpike for three years if they purchase it before January 1. A one-time $13 fee will also be included to cover the cost of the transponder. At the end of 2021, the fee will go to $25 for three additional years of unlimited use.
Current West Virginia EZ Pass holders will not have to get a new transponder if they want to be a part of the single fee program. The authority intends to automatically roll existing plans over to the new one.
Barr added he was impressed with the amount of public comments they received during the hearings. While the majority were in favor of the single fee transponder, most of the negative comments revolved around having tolls in the first place. Many West Virginians believe the tolls should have been removed several years ago.
“This goes on throughout the entire country,” Barr said. “They’re not taking tolls off of any toll roads in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kansas. Matter of fact they’re adding more tolls to roads with managed lanes because nobody knew in 1950 what the financial conditions would be nowadays. Everybody is short of funding for transportation infrastructure.”
The Parkways Authority hopes to have the single fee transmitters ready for purchase near the beginning of August. The new toll structure will go into effect on January 1, 2019.
A “frequently asked questions” packet was created which includes a complete list of the new toll rates. You can view it here.