CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Parkways Authority is on the verge of selling $172 million in bonds to finance construction of highways and bridges in 10 southern West Virginia counties.
The bond sale closes next Tuesday, according to Parkways Authority General Manager Greg Barr.
“The pricing of the bonds took place last week where they basically took orders and there was a huge demand for the bonds,” Barr told MetroNews. “That helped the Parkways Authority and the state of West Virginia to keep the rates down a little bit.”
There’s never been time when there wasn’t debt financed by tolls on the Turnpike since the road was first constructed in the 1950s. The current debt was scheduled to be paid off next year. The new debt comes as part of Gov. Jim Justice’s Roads to Prosperity program. Legislation gives the Parkways Authority the go-ahead to sell up to $500 million in bonds to finance projects in 10 southern West Virginia counties. A total closer to $330 million is now envisioned. The authority decided to have two bond sales to make sure the new toll rates are enough to finance the debt.
The Parkways Authority voted earlier this year to double tolls, going from $2 to $4 for passenger vehicles and doubling for the various commercial classes. Existing EZ pass discounts will remain in place. The changes take effect Jan. 1, 2019. The biggest change will be a new deeply discounted program that will allow motorists to purchase a three-year unlimited use toll pass for $24. The purchase of the pass has to be made by the end of this year to get the cheap rate. The program was the idea of Gov. Justice.
Barr said the bond sale will close next Tuesday.
“The funds will transfer and we’ll be able to make that $172 million deposit in the state road construction account to help those projects in southern West Virginia,” Barr said.
The first projects are an update to state Route 10 in Logan, Wyoming and Mercer counties and work on a 3.8 mile extension road to the so-called “Bridge to Nowhere” on the King Coal Highway in Mercer County.
The money from the rest of the toll increase will finance other projects and the operation of the 88-mile toll road. The program is expected to bring in about $25 million in additional revenue a year.
“These (bonds) have the full pledge of the Parkway Authority’s toll revenues. So that’s what secures the debt and that’s what our bonds are rated on, our ability to continue to collect those tolls,” Barr said.
The Parkways Authority held its regular monthly meeting Thursday in Charleston.