BECKLEY, W.Va. — The West Virginia Parkways Authority is preparing for the start of the first of several projects under Gov. Jim Justice’s Roads to Prosperity program.
The authority, acting as the agent for the Department of Highways, is in the process of awarding the construction contract to Triton Construction of St. Albans. Department of Transportation Secretary Tom Smith said the project has a contract price of $106 million. This is $6 million less than the initial bid, which was rejected before being resubmitted with a better response.
“Market conditions change. I mean we’re in a very volatile market right now so market conditions change overtime. The same company did re-bid it and they were the single bidder. When it was rejected they were the low bidder when they had competition with it and (they) actually are a very good West Virginia firm.”
Plans include constructing a third lane both northbound and southbound between the U.S. 19 intersection and the I-64/I-77 split. The project was first considered in 2006 but was postponed because it was deemed too expensive at the time.
“We’re anxious to get that work going. It’s the sort of stuff that creates jobs for the Beckley area,” said Smith. “But it has a greater economic impact all throughout the state. It will help traffic through Beckley but it will help regional traffic everywhere.”
During the Parkways Authority’s monthly meeting Thursday at Tamarack in Beckley, General Manager Greg Barr said the public’s response toward the new flat-fee EZ-pass transponder program has been overwhelmingly positive.
“People are really buying into it. We’re getting a lot of activity both online, on our website, in our office, on the phones, AAA. We’re getting it from all directions so that tells me the word is getting out pretty good.”
Barr said the Parkways Authority’s customer service center has had hour-long wait times on the phone as well as increased walk-ins. As a result, more employees have been hired to accommodate the demand.
Letters were sent recently to existing West Virginia EZ-pass customers detailing the new plan. Barr said this created some confusion among some users who misunderstood the $24 fee.
Under the plan, motorists will be able to pay $24 for unlimited passenger car use of the turnpike for three years if they purchase it through December 31. A one-time $13 fee will also be included to cover the cost of the transponder. Effective January 1, 2019, the fee will go to $25 each year for unlimited West Virginia Turnpike.
“There gets to be a little confusion because for a while there we had to sell a $5 pass. We couldn’t sell the $24 pass until the bonds were sold. So we decided we’ll sell the $5 pass and then automatically convert people to the $24 plan when the new plan kicks in middle of September.”
Tolls for cash-paying and those without a flat-fee transponder will double. 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.
The August 16 crash that killed two Parkways Authority workers and critically injured a third was not lost from the board’s Thursday discussion. It happened at mile marker 23, near Camp Creek, when a double tractor trailer struck two vehicles parked on the shoulder along with the workers.
“Trucks jackknife, trucks rollover, they wipe out guardrail, they wipe out median wall,” said Barr. “But in this instance our men were there at that incident and they got wiped out by this truck. It’s one thing to bill the trucker’s insurance company for damaged guardrail and damaged median wall, and we do that, but this reaches far beyond that when you lose life out there like this.”
West Virginia State Police are continuing to investigate the accident and hope to have a full report soon. The initial investigation revealed an equipment failure on the truck was to blame.
The flat-fee transponder program will be available on September 17. More information can be found here.