PRINCETON — With turnpike tolls rising on Aug. 1, a Mercer County lawmaker is exploring a “100 percent discount” plan for motorists that involves bypassing toll booths altogether.

Delegate John Shott, R-Mercer, said motorists willing to sacrifice some time and convenience can bypass one or more of the toll plazas. Shott, who believes area motorists will be looking at alternatives to higher tolls, submitted his plan to the Daily Telegraph last week.

“I would expect them (motorists) to look for alternatives to paying those higher tolls,” Shott said.

Shott said he doesn’t anticipate a large increase in E-ZPass purchases from residents of Mercer County, adding many in the region may be “allergic to technology” whereas others simply will not want to go through the hassle of purchasing an electronic transponder, and then placing it on their vehicle, to achieve the E-ZPass discount.

“I don’t think many people use it now unless they are real frequent users, and then they would probably be using what they call the PACC card,” Shott said. “If you are only going up there two or three times a year, I doubt people would go to that trouble.”

Shott said many residents of Mercer County also will stop traveling to Charleston on Aug. 1 for shopping, entertainment and even medical purposes due to the increase in tolls.

According to Shott, there are several ways motorists can design their own turnpike discount program. Shott said the directions are for motorists traveling south from Charleston to Mercer County. They can simply be reversed for motorists traveling north. His directions for bypassing the tolls are as follows:

• “Toll Plaza C: To bypass the Cabin Creek plaza take Exit 85 (the Cheylen/Cedar Grove Exit). Follow the exit ramp to the entrance to the bridge and turn right before crossing the bridge onto Rt 61 (Cheylen/East Bank). Go down the hill to the T intersection at the stop light and turn left on Rt. 61 South toward East Bank. Go about one half mile to a stop light and turn right on 79/3 (Cabin Creek Road.). Go under the overpass and travel about 4 1⁄2 miles to the intersection of Sharon Hill Road (you will see the turnpike on the left), turn left and then immediately right to enter the turnpike at Exit 79. The total distance is about 6 miles (about the same distance as driving on the turnpike) and it only takes about nine minutes (versus about five minutes on the turnpike assuming no delays at the toll booth), so you will only “lose” about four minutes. This is by far the easiest of the three routes around the toll plazas.”

• “Toll Plaza B: To bypass the Pax plaza (the middle plaza), take exit 60 (Mossy/Oak Hill), turn left and the end of the ramp and proceed a short distance to the intersection of Route 612. Turn right (East on Rt. 612) and go only about one-tenth of a mile to the first right (Route 23-Paint Creek Rd.) Travel on Paint Creek Road (a very narrow and winding road) for about 3 miles until it intersects with Plum Orchard Lake Road. Bear right (still on Plum Orchard Lake Rd.) and travel about 3.3 miles until you come to an intersection where there are signs directing you to I-64/77 (you can see the turnpike on the right). Turn right, go under the turnpike and turn left onto entrance ramp at the Pax Exit (No. 54). The total distance is about 7.3 miles (versus 6 miles on the turnpike) but it takes about 16 minutes, so you will “lose” about 10 minutes. This is the most difficult of the three alternate routes, and I wouldn’t recommend it after dark or during bad weather. It is a scenic ride, but not for the “feint of heart”.

• “Toll Plaza A: To bypass the Ghent toll plaza at mile post 30, take I-64 East near Beckley (exit 40) to the first exit (No. 124) on I-64 and follow the exit ramp all the way to the stoplight (you will see signs for U.S. Route 19. Turn left at the stoplight and then left again at the stop sign onto old U.S. Rt. 19 South for approximately 13 mi. At the Exxon station on the left, turn right onto the connector road and then left after crossing under the turnpike overpass onto exit No. 28 (Ghent/Flat Top). This is an easy route, but traffic in the Beaver area can slow you down, especially between 4 to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays). It is about 17 miles after leaving the Turnpike (versus a little over 12 miles on the turnpike), and it took me about 25 minutes due to traffic (versus about 10 minutes on the turnpike).

“They are an option,” Shott said of the proposed detours. “The first one and the last one aren’t really that inconvenient, and I don’t think there are any safety issues there. The middle one I’m not going to encourage. It’s a not road you want to travel at a fast speed. That’s a challenging route.”

Shott said the Parkways Authority members attempted to “soften the blow” of the turnpike toll hike by establishing an escrow account to “defease the bonds sold to finance Tamarack. Shott said the authority released approximately $1.4 million otherwise earmarked for the Tamarack indebtedness.”

Shott said largely through the efforts of authority members from the region, including Bill Seaver, Mike Vinciguerra and Cam Lewis, the $1.4 million was applied to increase the discount available to purchasers of the E-ZPass program.

“In all fairness, the three members from the southern part of the state (Seaver, Vinciguerra and Lewis) are relatively new appointees to the board, and their service began long after this mess was created,” Shott said in the letter submitted to the Daily Telegraph. “During the meeting in Charleston, all three spoke in favor of reducing the burden on the residents of southern West Virginia, and they deserve at least part of the credit for the improvement in the E-ZPass plan. Those of us serving in the Legislature are hopeful that they will support our continuing efforts in the upcoming legislative session to further reduce the unfairness that the turnpike represents to residents of southern West Virginia.”

– Contact Charles Owens at cowens@bdtonline.com

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