A bill halfway through the West Virginia Legislature would open up the possibility of more toll roads in the state.
In an effort to complete new road projects, Gov. Joe Manchin wants to give the West Virginia Parkways Authority the option to expand the state’s toll roads. Currently, the lone pay-as-you-go route is along the West Virginia Turnpike.
Changes are being sought to address the lack of funding available to the state to build and maintain key highways. The state’s dependence on fuel tax collections, which is the major component of the state’s road fund, has caused problems in recent years. Less fuel consumption, more fuel-efficient vehicles, and changing driving habits have been cited for the reduced revenue.
Under the governor’s watchful eye, the Senate unanimously voted to advance a bill to the House that would enable the state Parkways Authority to pursue selling bonds to build new highways, and collect tolls on those roads to pay off the bonds.
The new bonding capability wouldn’t apply to the Turnpike.
One project that could benefit includes the completion of a four-lane U.S. Route 35 near Ohio. The affected 14.6-mile stretch runs through Putnam and Mason counties.
Supporters acknowledge that the concept won’t work everywhere in the state. There would need to be enough traffic to warrant charging tolls. Others say they support the idea of tolling highway users, but only if tax breaks are tied in.
The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association doesn’t categorically oppose having new roads tolled, as long as certain conditions are met. OOIDA does, however, stand against double taxation, diversion of toll receipts to non-highway projects and other burdens that toll roads can put on highway users.
A provision added on the Senate floor would require the governor to appoint citizen panels where toll roads are being considered. They would submit recommendations and suggestions on projects to the Parkways Authority.
Another late addition to the bill would require the Parkways Authority to hold annual informational sessions in each of the four Turnpike counties about the existing EZ-Pass program.
Also included in the bill is a provision sought by Manchin to focus the Parkways Authority’s attention solely on roads. The agency would be required to separate itself from dealing with economic development and tourism.
The bill – SB427 – is awaiting consideration in the House Finance Committee.
To view other legislative activities of interest for West Virginia in 2010, click here.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor
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