Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Editorials

December 9, 2012

Turnpike tolls

Seaver, Lewis comments baffling

— — What in the world are Bill Seaver and Cameron Lewis thinking? Seaver, a well-known Mercer County businessman who was appointed to the West Virginia Parkways Authority several years ago, has inexplicably emerged as one of the strongest proponents of keeping tolls on the 88-mile West Virginia Turnpike once the original bond indebtedness expires in 2019. And fellow authority member Lewis is proposing — supposedly in jest — that Mercer County be annexed by Virginia. What?

We aren’t sure if Lewis’ comment was intended as an insult to the good citizens of Mercer County or not. But since it can be viewed as offensive, he should apologize to the citizens of Mercer for the baffling remark made during an authority board meeting last week.

That brings us to Seaver. When he was appointed to the Parkways Authority board several years ago, it was hoped that Seaver would fight for and do that which is in the best interest of the people and business owners of Mercer County. Fighting to keep tolls on the Turnpike past 2019 is not in our best interest. Most residents of Mercer County — and southern West Virginia as a whole — do not support or like having to pay turnpike tolls.

But Seaver says he wants a strong pro-tolls voice on Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s special blue-ribbon panel looking at road needs across the state.

“They take the tolls off, it’s going to be a huge tragedy for this state,” Seaver told fellow West Virginia Parkways Authority members, via a speaker telephone from Mercer County Wednesday. “We need to start taking the other side of the argument. Right now, we’re just taking a beating every time you turn around by all the Republicans in this county, the newspaper in this county. Everywhere. We have got to start making people understand how vital these tolls are.”

We don’t see how removing tolls will be a “huge tragedy” for West Virginia. In fact, we would view it as a significant victory for the residents of Mercer County and southern West Virginia as a whole. We aren’t sure what “Republicans” have to do with this debate. We would hope that those elected to office or appointed to commissions would put politics aside and work toward the greater good of the county.

We realize that the 88-mile turnpike is a sacred cash cow for the state of West Virginia, and the Parkways Authority in particular. And we know there are some in Charleston who apparently don’t want to lose these dollars. But when the original bonds are paid in full in 2019, the Parkways Authority cannot — and must not — continue to force the citizens and business owners of southern West Virginia to pay for a debt that is paid in full.

That’s not a tragedy. It’s not a conspiracy by Republicans or Democrats. It’s common sense. When a debt is paid in full, you don’t keep making payments.

We would hope in the future that Seaver would be a stronger voice on the Parkways Authority for the citizens of Mercer County, and southern West Virginia as a whole. And Lewis should drive to Mercer County — and pay the tolls on the way down and back up — to check out this beautiful area and the proud West Virginians who call it home.

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