BECKLEY, W.Va. — During Monday’s meeting of the West Virginia Parkways Authority at Tamarack in Beckley, General Manager Greg Barr said he expects upcoming changes to the Turnpike’s EZ Pass program to be met with enthusiasm by the public.
Beginning in January, tolls will go from $2 to $4. At the same time, drivers who already have EZ Pass will automatically be enrolled in a program costing $24 for unlimited use over the next three years. Anyone who does not currently have an EZ Pass can enroll by Dec. 31 to receive the same benefits.
Barr said the value of the single-fee pass will result in a net savings, even for people who are not regular drivers on the Turnpike. He added he anticipates trucking companies and independent contractors will consider the new toll structure to be cost-effective in the long run.
“When the traffic engineers (did) their studies, they looked at two major things that can impact our revenues: one is, how many people will sign up for this new single-fee discount program. The other big thing is, for the commercial traffic, is how many trucks will choose to go another way and avoid the Turnpike, in other words, divert to another road,” Barr explained
“They had a very high diversion factor built into their study, (projecting) almost 19 percent would divert. We don’t think that’s going to happen but they built it in, and I think, really, they want to be very, very conservative when they do their revenue projections because they know we’re going to sell bonds and pledge that revenue to pay the debt service on the bonds.”
He pointed out truck operators currently have few good alternatives to the Turnpike when traveling through the southern region of West Virginia.
“The five-axle tractor-trailers would have to go to I-81 or I-75 in Kentucky because the other routes won’t really hold a tractor trailer. Route 60 is very circuitous, hairpin turns and it takes a lot longer. And we do offer a discount for truckers, as well,” he said.
“A commercial truck gets 20 percent off the cash rate. With an out-of-state EZ Pass, they get a 13 percent discount off the cash rate. There are incentives for them to get a transponder which, granted, most of them already have them.”
Gov. Jim Justice approved the upcoming changes in 2017 as a part of the Roads to Prosperity program. The money generated by the increase in tolls will finance more than $300 million in bonds, which will go to the West Virginia Department of Highways to pay for road projects in 10 counties in southern West Virginia. Some of those projects include improvements to Route 10 and completing John Nash Boulevard to Airport Road in Mercer County.
Board members also gave final approval on Monday for the hiring of a third full-time enforcement officer to patrol the turnpike. The agreement is between the Parkways Authority and the Public Service Commission.