CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Senate President Jeff Kessler says he supports removing tolls from the West Virginia Turnpike but thinks a House bill to do away with those tolls by 2020 might be premature.
The House of Delegates on Wednesday voted 98-1 to approve a bill that calls for the tolls to come off the Turnpike once the remaining debt is paid.
The legislation, House Bill 3163, estimates that debt will be satisfied by 2019 but allows the state to collect an extra year of tolls to save up money for future maintenance. Tollbooths on the 88-mile Turnpike bring in about $80 million per year.
Kessler said he agrees with the bill's intentions.
"At some point, I think they need to get it paid off and make it free, just like every other interstate," he said.
But he said the state should not be hasty in ending toll revenues. He suggested the Legislature wait until Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's Blue Ribbon Highways Commission delivers its final report, expected sometime this summer, before deciding the fate of tolls.
"What are we going to replace them with?" he said.
The commission's report is supposed to provide lawmakers with suggestions for bringing in more revenue for roads.
Kessler said there are "three T's" when it comes to funding road construction projects: taxes, tolls, "or you can tell them the truth."
"The truth is, you can't build roads without money," he said.