Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Letters to the Editor

December 21, 2013

Seaver defends turnpike tolls

— — I believe the (recent) editorial in the Bluefield Daily Telegraph was the third one I can recall that said, “When Seaver was appointed to the Parkways Authority board several years ago, it was hoped that he would be a strong voice for the people of Mercer County and their best interests.” When (they) asked me to take this position and recommended me to (then) Gov. Manchin, they assured me no strings or opinions were attached and they trusted me to learn and form opinions that would best serve our citizens. I believe I am fulfilling that mission.

I am glad we live in a country that allows us to debate and agree to disagree. I appreciate this opportunity to let our citizens know there is another side to this story and the future of southern West Virginia will depend on decisions and actions taken now by our elected representatives.

I have said on more than one occasion removing the tolls would be devastating to our state and the Department of Highways. At every opportunity some of our delegates and the Telegraph tell the people in southern West Virginia that they are being discriminated against, oppressed, double taxed, and mistreated in every way by the tolls on the turnpike. No consideration for the loss of 400 jobs of turnpike employees and the resulting impact on their families and the communities where they live. No consideration ever given to the potential damage to our transportation infrastructure and the fact the Department of Highways is already struggling financially having over $1 billion dollars in unfunded maintenance needs. They are also facing significant decreases in federal funding and gas tax revenues we have lost to Virginia who reduced their gas by 15 cents a gallon. Imagine the impact in all West Virginia counties bordering Virginia.

Regarding the overwhelming House approval of the bill to remove tolls last year you mentioned in the editorial, the Finance Committee could not put Delegate Gearheart’s bill on the floor because fiscal notes were attached and the other delegates would immediately see it would be impossible to remove tolls from the turnpike because of fiscal note rebuttal by those affected.

Instead, our delegates convinced the leadership and other members of the Finance Committee to tweak the already flawed math on his bill and submit it to the House floor as a bill originating in the Finance Committee with no fiscal notes attached.

By originating this bill in committee and not requesting a fiscal note and handing the revised bill out in the meeting without time for review certainly raises a red flag.

The revised plan I sent the governor and asked him to consider is a common sense approach for future turnpike tolls. I would request he authorize the Parkways Authority to give Kanawha, Fayette, Raleigh and Mercer County $25,000 every year for the next six years until the bonds are paid off for infrastructure needs, reimburse school systems and work with veteran and senior centers for E-Z Pass access for those needing the turnpike for medical appointments.

After the bonds are paid off I would request he increase the annual amount to $250,000 for the same purpose and to further create and enhance economic development and infrastructure needs.

 I would further request, following the payoff of bonds, the establishment of the Southern West Virginia Transportation Infrastructure Fund where excess turnpike tolls after operating expenses could be placed. I estimate the annual amount to be in the $20 million dollar range. These funds would be used for road care and improvements only in southern West Virginia. This fund would be under the jurisdiction of the West Virginia Department of Highways. It is a plan that insures the jobs of our turnpike employees and hopefully creates more jobs in every county.

This plan also provides tremendous relief for many of the financial challenges faced by the Department of Highways. It could also insure continued progress on the King Coal Highway project from Bluefield to Williamson, a much needed project we owe the people living in the coalfields who contributed so much to the success our state enjoys. I do not believe the Legislature or any governor will ever take the tolls off of the turnpike. They all realize the importance and the potential for the revenue derived from tolls after the bonds are paid off. I also believe the federal government will reduce the amount of money they contribute to states for highways and allow tolling on interstate highways.

G.W. “Bill” Seaver, IV, Princeton

W.Va. Parkways Authority

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