A bill that has completed its trek through the West Virginia statehouse would open up the possibility of more toll roads in the state. It now moves to the governor’s desk for his expected signature.
In an effort to complete new road projects, Gov. Joe Manchin has called for giving 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 House voted 95-3 to approve the bill 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. Senate lawmakers signed off on changes to the bill clearing the way for SB427 to move to Manchin’s desk.
Completion of a four-lane U.S. Route 35 near Ohio is expected to be the first project to benefit from the new authority. The affected 14.6-mile stretch runs through Putnam and Mason counties.
Advocates for the new tolling authority acknowledge the concept won’t work everywhere in the state. There would need to be enough traffic to warrant charging tolls.
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 and other burdens that toll roads can put on highway users.
Another provision in the bill would give county commissions veto power over toll roads. Two citizens from each county would be involved in such projects to provide input to the authority.
The Parkway’s Authority would be required to hold annual informational sessions in each of the four Turnpike counties about the existing EZ-Pass program. At each of the gatherings, the authority would hand out 250 E-ZPass transponders.
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.
To view other legislative activities of interest for West Virginia in 2010, click here.
– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor
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