In West Virginia, the governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways released its report this week and it hits highway users right where it hurts. The commission recommends increasing tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike each of the next 10 years and using the money to fund non-turnpike projects throughout the commonwealth.
First, the problem. Like most states, West Virginia is facing a gap between needed road and bridge work and the money to pay for it. One-third of West Virginia’s roadway miles are rated as being in poor or mediocre condition, according to the report. The state’s 7,000 bridges have an average age of 40 years, with 35 percent of the structures rated as deficient.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin formed the commission in 2012 to recommend solutions. The commission met a number of times and polled West Virginia residents about what they would tolerate or not tolerate when asked to pay more.
Commissioners say fuel taxes, which fund a large percentage of state transportation and infrastructure, are “less reliable” than other potential funding sources.
So they turned to the turnpike much like Pennsylvania lawmakers did in 2007 when they enacted a law to increase tolls and raid the kitty to pay for other projects around the state.
Issued in 1989, tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike are scheduled to sunset in 2019.
The Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways recommends not only that the tolls stay in place for years to come but increase every July 1 for the next 10 years – to “leverage” turnpike funds to pay for other transportation needs and projects.
OOIDA Director of State Legislative Affairs Mike Matousek says the report treats truckers and other highway users as cash cows.
“The West Virginia Turnpike was constructed using federal gas and fuel tax funds and should not have been a toll road to begin with,” he said. “Instead of doing the right thing, the Blue Ribbon Commission has instead made some unfortunate, though not surprising recommendations to ‘leverage’ this public asset. Of course, truckers will feel the impacts of the Commission’s bad ideas more than most should they ever be enacted by state lawmakers.”
The panel’s recommendations are not laws, and they are subject to votes by the state Legislature.
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