CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Almost every member of the House of Delegates agrees: Tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike should expire.
A bill eliminating tolls by the year 2020 was approved overwhelmingly Wednesday, the last day for the House to send legislation originating with its members to the Senate.
All but one of the 98 lawmakers present supported the bill, with only Kanawha County Democrat Danny Wells in opposition.
The measure, House Bill 3164, calls for the tolls to come off the Turnpike once the remaining debt is paid. It's estimated that debt will be satisfied by 2019, leaving an additional year of tolls to build up a little extra money to pay for future Turnpike maintenance.
While delegates from both sides of the aisle spoke in favor of the measure, all were from southern West Virginia. The 88-mile Turnpike runs through the heart of the southern coalfields.
Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, said removal of the tolls has been a long time coming. With the road completely funded now, he and others said the tolls were no longer necessary.
Fellow Mercer County Republican John Shott also spoke in favor of the bill, as did Fayette County Republican Linda Sumner. Delegates Clif Moore, D-McDowell, and Margaret Staggers, D-Fayette, also advocated for its passage.
Senate Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion, told the Daily Mail Tuesday he thinks removing the tolls is a legitimate conversation. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is skeptical of the idea, legislative director Jason Pizzatella said.
The measure also would move control of the Turnpike from the West Virginia Parkways Authority to the Division of Highways.
All Turnpike maintenance workers would be employed by the division while toll workers and other employees would get preference for other open state positions.
The Parkways Authority opposes the measure.
Like the governor, authority General Manager Greg Barr said the bill is premature because it comes before Tomblin's Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways delivers its report. Barr also said advocates of the bill have seriously low-balled maintenance estimates.
The governor does favor another road measure the House passed Wednesday: a bill aimed at punishing people who drive while under the influence of drugs.
The measure, House Bill 2513, would allow officers to revoke a driver's license if the person under arrest refused to take a blood test. It also attempts to establish a method for determining how much of a particular substance a person could have in the bloodstream before being considered legally intoxicated.