A new law in West Virginia opens up the possibility of more toll roads in the state.
In an effort to complete new road projects, Gov. Joe Manchin signed a bill into law in late March 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.
Manchin sought the changes 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.
Starting July 1, the state Parkways Authority will be able to pursue selling bonds to build new highways and to collect tolls on those roads to pay off the bonds.
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 156,000-plus membership of 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.
Previously SB427, the new law includes a provision giving county commissions veto power over toll roads. Two citizens from each county are to be involved in such projects to provide input to the authority.
The Parkway’s Authority will be required to hold annual informational sessions in each of the four Turnpike counties about the existing E-ZPass program. At each of the gatherings, the authority must hand out 250 E-ZPass transponders.
One other provision sought by Manchin focuses the Parkways Authority’s attention solely on roads. The agency is required to separate itself from dealing with economic development and tourism.
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– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor
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