No matter how much some lawmakers would like to see it happen, the West Virginia Parkways Authority probably isn't going away anytime soon.
It's a perennial suggestion around the statehouse: dissolve the Parkways Authority, which oversees the West Virginia Turnpike, and turn over control to the state Division of Highways.
Members of the Legislature's Joint Committee on Infrastructure brought up the idea again on Tuesday. Proponents of the plan say it would save West Virginia money, since it would put an end to services currently offered by both agencies.
But as long as there are outstanding bonds on the Turnpike, the Parkways Authority is probably here to stay.
Bryan Helmick, bond counsel for the authority, said the West Virginia Constitution forbids the state from taking on debt without approval from the voters.
The state Supreme Court has outlined a few exceptions, including creating an independent agency to take on debt in the state's place. That's why the Parkways Authority was formed.
Lawmakers would not be allowed to take over Parkways' bond debt without putting the measure on a statewide ballot.
Helmick also said bondholders' contract also requires the Parkways Authority maintain tollbooths on the Turnpike and control maintenance of the road.
"It is a revenue generating asset. They want to make sure that asset is maintained .<!p>.<!p>. at a level to make sure people will still be willing to travel on it and pay that toll," he said.
Sen. Bill Cole, R-Mercer, asked why the state couldn't dissolve the authority but keep its governing board around to remain faithful to the contracts.
Helmick said that plan could work, but likely would be "frowned upon" by credit rating agencies.
"It would be a very delicate balance to look at and make that work," he said.
Worries over bond contracts would all go away, of course, if West Virginia just paid back its $55 million bond debt before they mature in 2019.
Helmick said that plan also has pitfalls.
One section of the bonds has a prepayment penalty, which would cost the state an additional $4.5 million. The second section of the bonds cannot be prepaid, so the state still would owe about $3.1 million in interest payments.
When the bonds are eventually paid off later this decade, it will be up to the state highways commissioner to decide whether the Division of Highways will take over the Turnpike.
It could be an expensive decision.
Parkways Authority director Greg Barr said it would cost the state about $59 million per year to maintain the Turnpike, including $25 million a year for bridges.
He said the Turnpike has never replaced a bridge deck on any of its 116 spans. He said it is still cheaper to maintain the bridges than to replace them, but that probably will change over the next few decades.
"The highway pavement will be in good condition, but the bridges are next," he said.
@tagline:Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or zack.har...@dailymail.com.
Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.