CHARLESTON, W.Va. - A bill to remove tolls from the West Virginia Turnpike by 2020 likely will not pass this session.
Senate Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Bob Beach, D-Monongalia, said House Bill 3164 would not leave his committee this year. Instead, the committee will take up a resolution to study the future options for the Turnpike, which could include removing tolls in the not-so-near future.
As passed by the House, the bill would have removed tolls from the Turnpike one year after the 88-mile highway pays off its existing debts.
The Turnpike is expected to be debt free in 2019, so tolls would come off in 2020. The state would bank that extra toll revenue to fund future maintenance on the road.
Beach said passing the bill now only creates an unfunded liability for future Legislatures. He also pointed out the toll fees pay the salaries of 31 state troopers, which the state could not afford to pay otherwise.
"I commend the House for taking on the issue, but I think we're jumping the gun," he said.
He said lawmakers should wait until Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's Blue Ribbon Highways Commission releases its final report later this year before making any drastic changes to the state's roads system.
Beach said he expects the commission's report, due in a few months, will address issues with the Turnpike.
While he doesn't know what the recommendations will be, he said the commission could push to roll back tolls to pre-2000 levels, turn the Turnpike over to the Department of Highways sometime in the future and manage the road as a "limited access highway."
Meanwhile, a study resolution for the future of the Turnpike is on the Senate Transportation and Infrastructure's Tuesday agenda.
He said the study resolution is important because, unlike the Blue Ribbon Highways Commission, it would focus solely the Turnpike.