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Robert Ash: We could end Turnpike tolls for W.Va. residents

AN immediate long-term solution for ending tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike is right in front of us and still goes unseen.

I have examined the need for tolls and the desire of West Virginia residents to be rid of these tolls, which have been an unfair burden on them for nearly 60 years.

I also reviewed the positions of some who want to keep tolls in place for legitimate reasons.

The state Parkways Authority wants to keep Tamarack open, continue in its economic and tourist-sector development efforts and maintain employment for more than 300 West Virginia residents.

The state Department of Transportation cannot maintain an additional 88 miles of roadway to interstate standards because its annual budget is already stretched too thin. The West Virginia Governor and State Treasurer are trying to be fiscally responsible by not giving up revenue produced by the Turnpike.

Here is a solution all parties can support, and it should be immediately acted upon in special session by the Legislature. Politicians and their constituents will be very happy, and re-election of incumbents is virtually guaranteed.

The Mercer, Raleigh, Fayette and Kanawha County delegations should write up the bill and call upon the governor to convene a special one-day session to pass the bill and send it to his desk for his approval.

So what is this magic solution that would allow West Virginians to keep a few dollars in their pockets?

The answer is expanded use of the E-ZPass system for all West Virginia residents. West Virginians using the expanded system would be charged just like everyone else - with one big exception:

Their usage would be exempted from charge and their accounts zeroed out at the end of each month. No bill would be issued and no charge made to their credit cards.

The E-ZPass data records could further be used for traffic studies by the federal and state  Departments of Transportation. Any loss of toll revenue would be made up by a modification of the current tolls to meet or exceed the current revenue being produced.

No West Virginians would have reason to protest future increases, as only vehicles registered outside of West Virginia would be subject to tolls.

The Turnpike bonds could be paid off and the tolls could continue. We might even be able to afford major improvements to the Turnpike itself instead of constantly sending our money out of state to large banks and brokerage houses.

How could this proposal be implemented? It is as simple as issuing to every private and commercial vehicle registered in the state a special plate that would contain the E-ZPass circuitry. It should be emblazoned with Mountaineer E-Zpass on two lines.

The extra plate would be attached to the front of the vehicle and remain there as long as the vehicle registration remained in effect. There could be any number of drivers for the vehicles, but only one pass per vehicle.

The system could be implemented when each vehicle receives its original registration and also as registrations are renewed. Or all currently registered vehicles could be issued an E-ZPass plate at one time in a special Division of Motor Vehicles mailing.

This system would also allow for development of future publicly and privately funded toll roads and bridges while exempting West Virginians from those tolls.

It is a sensible solution to a never-ending complaint from West Virginia residents regarding payment of Turnpike tolls.

Ash, who lives in Rock, Mercer County, is retired from C&P Telephone Co. and the United Nations. His background is in strategic planning and problem solving.


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