CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The state Parkways Authority has more than doubled its customer service staff to handle the volume of applications associated with the new single fee EZ Pass program for the West Virginia Turnpike.
Fifteen-thousand new individual EZ Pass accounts have been created in recent months as motorists look to take advantage of the one-time three-year $24 unlimited use pass for passenger vehicles.
Parkways signed up 10,000 new customers in September, Parkways Authority General Manager Greg Barr told MetroNews Thursday at the monthly Parkways Authority meeting.
“We’re trying to get as many on the phones as possible. We’re up to 30 people now in the customer service center. We used to do it with 14,” Barr said. “We’ve got a night shift we’re starting up. We’re working weekends. We’re working evenings and people are staying over.”
The deeply discounted EZ pass was announced by Gov. Jim Justice not longer after he took office in January 2017. State lawmakers approved the program later that year. Members of the Parkways Authority included it as part of a toll increase plan that will pay off millions of dollars new bonds that will be used to build new roads and bridges in 10 southern West Virginia counties.
The single fee program includes a one-time $13 transponder fee for new customers. The program doesn’t officially begin until January but Barr said those that have already signed up are essentially using the Turnpike for free between now and then.
“I tell people you’re paying (beginning Jan. 1) $8 a year for three years for unlimited use of the Turnpike,” he said.
For those who don’t sign up, the single fee pass will cost $25 a year beginning Jan. 1, 2019.
“That’s still a good deal,” Barr said.
The interest in the program has been significant. Barr said there are 40 calls in the queue at any one time. He says there are up to 10 people in line at a time at the Parkways Authority headquarters and many others filling out applications on the authority’s website.
“Hopefully we’ve hit the peek on this initial surge and it will start to level off and then there will probably be another surge around Christmastime when people realize they only have until Dec. 31st to get the $24 pass,” he said.
Parkways has also renovated an old toll building near its headquarters into a fulfillment office where orders are being processed. Six people are currently working there, Barr said.
The Parkways Authority approved a toll increase in June that will result in a doubling of the tolls on the 88-mile highway from Charleston to Princeton beginning Jan. 1, 2019. Passenger car tolls will go from $2.00 to $4.00 per toll plaza. Other vehicle classifications will also pay more.
There are now approximately 55,000 individual EZ pass accounts with the Parkways Authority, up more than 40 percent over the last several months.
Other information at Thursday’s Parkways Authority meeting included:
–a bid approved for just more than $5 million to Brayman Construction for a northbound bridge deck project near Marmet.
–Parkways Authority members learned the agency’s investment income had increased significantly during the past year.
–a lead candidate has been identified for the open director’s job at Tamarack. The authority gave Barr and its general counsel the okay to negotiate with the candidate.