By GREG JORDAN
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
A panel established by West Virginia’s governor has suggested increasing West Virginia Turnpike tolls to finance bonds for highway projects, but it’s a suggestion that was not well received by area residents.
The Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways finalized a recommendation Sept. 19 that included a hike in tolls to finance up to $1 billion in bonds for highway projects. The plan’s supporters said the increased tolls would pass along the cost of road maintenance to out-of-state residents.
People visiting the Mercer Mall dismissed the idea. One Mercer County person said people such as her daughter would carry the cost.
“Isn’t that crazy?” Janice Cole, 71, of Bluefield said when told about the plan. “My daughter has to travel that highway five days a week to work in Beckley. She can’t afford to pay more. It’s terrible that you have to go to work in Beckley and pay the toll.”
A Virginia resident saw the proposed hike as just another raise in personal expenses.
“Oh, wow,” said Dustin Cox, 21, of Wytheville, Va. “I don’t like it at all. They’ve already raised taxes enough.”
Another Virginia resident thought higher tolls could finance road projects, but she also suggested going around Interstate 77 to avoid toll booths.
“I guess if it helps the roads, it’s a good idea,” said MaKayla Barker, 19, of Tazewell, Va. “You cant’ drive on the roads if they’re not in good condition. If you travel the back roads, you wouldn’t have to pay the tolls.”
One Bland County, Va., resident who occasionally uses the turnpike said he did not see why the state could not spread the cost of highway repairs to all areas of the state and not just southern West Virginia.
“I don’t agree with it,” Danny Marion, 46, of Bland, Va., said of the plan.
People who must drive to places like Kanawha County can pay almost $20 in tolls, said one coal miner.
“The turnpike should have been paid off 20 years ago,” said David McKinney, 55, of Herndon. He sometimes has to travel to Julian near Charleston for training, and a round trip can cost $18 in tolls.
“I don’t think they should,” McKinney said when asked about raising tolls.