CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A bill that eventually would eliminate tolls from the West Virginia Turnpike is not viewed favorably by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin or the state Parkways Authority.
"The governor has strong reservations about the concept of removing the tolls from the Turnpike when the bonds are paid off," said Jason Pizatella, Tomblin's legislative director.
The House of Delegates is poised to approve a bill today that would eliminate the tolls once the debt owed on the Turnpike is paid.
It's anticipated the debt will be cleared by 2019, and the bill would provide a one-year span for toll money to flow into maintenance funds created in the measure, House Bill 3163.
The Turnpike then would come under the authority of the Division of Highways, which would be responsible for maintaining the 88-mile road.
Pizatella, the governor's representative on the Parkways Authority board, says such a measure comes up every year. He said it's shortsighted to move ahead with the measure before the Blue Ribbon Highway Commission can address the issue later this year.
Greg Barr, authority general manager, thinks the move is a terrible idea.
Tolls on the Turnpike bring in about $80 million every year, with roughly $60 million coming from out-of-state drivers. Transitioning maintenance of the Turnpike to the Division of Highways would have West Virginians paying for all future costs on the road.
"We've tried to insulate West Virginians from the impact of the tolls," Barr added, pointing to EZ-pass discounts for in-state drivers.
Citing a Parkways Authority report given to the highway commission earlier this year, Barr said it would cost the Division of Highways an estimated $59 million a year to maintain the Turnpike.
In light of the roughly $20 million a year in tolls paid by state drivers now, he thinks that would be a raw deal.
Delegate Marty Gearheart said that's a misrepresentation,.
The Republican from Mercer County drives the Turnpike every time he comes to Charleston.
He pointed to the same report, which lists current maintenance costs for the authority as much less. The report says maintenance costs $17.1 million a year, including $11.1 million for the roadways and $6 million for authority facilities.