By CHARLES OWENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Add another southern West Virginia lawmaker to the list of those who are working to remove tolls from the West Virginia Turnpike.
Delegate Clif Moore, D-McDowell, said Monday that he fully supports bills being drafted by Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, and Delegate Linda Sumner, R-Raleigh, that seek the removal of turnpike tolls by 2019, which is when the original bonds used to construct the 88-mile toll road from Princeton to Charleston are due to be paid in full.
The measure being drafted by Gearheart also seeks to preclude future borrowing secured by turnpike tolls. The legislation also aims to provide a new funding source for the maintenance and upkeep of the turnpike by the state Department of Transportation after tolls are removed in 2019. Sumner’s bill by comparison seeks to remove all toll collection booths by Feb. 1, 2020.
“The late Delegate (Mike) Porter, John Shott and myself have been on this issue for many years now,” Moore, a delegate serving McDowell and Mercer counties, said. “As you well know we were out there on the turnpike and protesting.”
Moore said he expects a final turnpike toll removal bill to enjoy a greater level of support in Charleston this year. The last turnpike toll removal bill, introduced by Gearheart during the 2012 legislative session, died in committee.
“I think it will have more traction this year,” Moore said. “One reason is because I think the delegation here is just a very strong delegation. Even though we are from southern West Virginia, we have a lot of influence and clout. Because who knows, one day it may be coming your way. They are talking about putting toll roads here and there.”
Delegate Joe Ellington, R-Mercer, said identifying a source of funding for the maintenance of the turnpike once the tolls are removed is key.
“I think there will be more support, but whether it will get through the House may be another issue,” Ellington said. “But I think with the funding source in place that (the lack of identified funding) was the biggest impediment to it.”
Ellington said toll removal efforts are expected to generate more publicity as well this year, which can help in changing the opinions of other lawmakers living in areas not impacted by the toll road.
Moore said he intends to support whatever final bill reaches the House floor — as long as it calls for the removal of all tolls by 2019.
“I do not see a partisan divide on this,” Moore said of the turnpike toll issue. “Our delegation is very cohesive whether you are a Democrat or a Republican. It’s not a matter of being a Democrat or a Republican.”
Members of the West Virginia Parkways Authority, including Bill Seaver, of Mercer County, are arguing in support of keeping tolls on the turnpike — even after the original bond debt is paid in full in 2019. They claim the state Department of Transportation will not be able to afford the maintenance and upkeep of an additional 88 miles of road. The DOT is currently responsible for the maintenance and upkeep of more than 34,000 miles of state roads.
— Contact Charles Owens at email@example.com