Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Local News

September 21, 2013

West Virginia highway panel suggests $1B bond issue

CHARLESTON (AP) — A panel established by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has recommended increasing tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike to finance up to $1 billion in bonds for highway construction and maintenance.

According to published reports, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways finalized its recommendation Thursday. Supporters of the plan say the increased tolls would pass along some of the highway costs to out-of-state residents.

Jason Pizatella, chairman of the commission and Tomblin’s deputy chief of staff, noted that the proposal needs the support of the governor and the Legislature before the state Parkways Authority could enact it.

Tolls on the 88-mile turnpike are scheduled to come off in 2019, but the commission recommended that the state keep the tollbooths intact and use the revenue to pay back the road bonds. Turnpike drivers currently pay $2 at each booth, but that could more than double. Commercial vehicles currently pay $6.75.

The commission advanced two options for consideration. A plan modeled on recent changes to the Ohio turnpike would raise $600 million over the next 30 years, increasing tolls by 10 percent in the first year and 2.7 percent each year thereafter over the next decade. Under that plan, passenger car tolls would top out at $2.87 by 2024.

A plan modeled on Pennsylvania’s turnpike would generate $1 billion by increasing tolls 25 percent in the first year, then 3 percent per year over the next 20 years. That means in 2033, passenger cars would have to fork over $4.38 just to get from Charleston to Cabin Creek.

Pizatella said the group would submit recommendations to Tomblin sometime in the next few weeks, after members have had a chance to proofread the finalized report. He acknowledged the difficulty of getting the recommendations approved with many members of the Legislature running for re-election next year.

“I don’t think any part of what we’ve done over the last year will be easy,” he said. “There’s a political component in everything we do in government.”

Tomblin recently expressed wariness to taking out a $1 billion loan to fund road construction.

“I’m not sure a bond issue of that magnitude at this time is something we want to get into, but I’ll reserve judgment until I see the final report,” he told the Charleston Gazette earlier this month.

Taken as a whole, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways’ recommendations would generate $1.1 billion over the next several decades. The panel previously recommended $100,000 in Division of Motor Vehicles fee increases and an annual registration fee for alternative fuel vehicles.

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