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Toll revenues expected to decline slightly

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - State officials expect less money from tolls but higher expenses on the West Virginia Turnpike in the budget year that starts July 1.

However, in a budget approved by the Parkways Authority Thursday, revenues still will outpace expenses in 2013-14. 

"Overall, the budget is pretty much in line with what we've been seeing over the past few years," said Greg Barr, authority general manager.

The authority expects toll revenue to decrease by about $560,000, less than 1 percent of the $81.2 million it collected this year.

That's because fewer drivers are using the turnpike, and more drivers who do are using the E-Z Pass system, said Parrish French, director of finance for the authority.

E-Z Pass users receive a transponder that eliminates the need to stop at tollbooths. The device causes their E-Z Pass account to be charged instead.

The system saves both time and money. Many transponder users are charged $1.30 each time they pass through a toll plaza, while cash-paying motorists pay $2 per booth. 

A frequent-user pass can save drivers up to 90 percent of what it would cost to stop at the booths every time, Barr said.

The EZ-Pass system is linked to driver credit cards, and the authority absorbs the credit card fees, French said. Next year, the authority is budgeting more than $500,000 for the cost of those fees, French said.

The increased fee cost is reflected by a small bump in anticipated operating costs. The authority expects costs to increase by 1.6 percent, from $17.1 million to $17.4 million.

Net revenue is expected to rise by $2.9 million, from $21.6 million to $24.5 million. That's largely because the anticipated cost of renewal and replacement programs is down by about $850,000.  Costs for vehicle and equipment, concrete repair and facilities renovations are all expected to decline.

Tamarack, the authority-run arts and craft center near Beckley, is still losing money. Revenues are expected to come in at $3.9 million, compared to $5.3 million in operating costs. Barr said the authority would make up the difference in overall concession revenue.

Contact writer Dave Boucher at 304-348-4843 or david.boucher@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/Dave_Boucher1.

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