West Virginia state senators spitball tolling Interstate 81

By Charlie Morasch, Land Line contributing writer | Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Two West Virginia state senators are kicking around the idea of adding tolls to the 23 miles of Interstate 81 that runs through West Virginia. The two senators have already heard disagreement from some members of their own party, though, who say adding tolls won’t simply be another tax on out-of-towners.

“We’ve been batting around the idea of putting tolls on Interstate 81,” State Sen. Chris Walters, R-Putnam, told the Charleston Daily Mail last week. State Sen. Daniel Hall, R-Wyoming, reportedly said he’s spoken with U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins, R-W.V., about adding an amendment to a long-term highway bill that would allow states to add tolls to federal highways.

“He thinks it is more up to us,” Hall told the newspaper. “As long as we’re complying with federal law we can do what we want.”

Complying with federal law may prevent Hall’s plans.

Federal law has generally prohibited tolls for existing interstate highway lanes, although two pilot programs have created exceptions.

Created in 1998, the Interstate System Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Pilot Program would allow tolls on three interstate facilities. Missouri, Virginia and North Carolina are slotted for the pilot program. None are actively pursuing tolling authority, according to the Alliance for Toll-Free Interstates, a coalition of businesses, individuals and organizations in favor of protecting interstates from new tolls. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is a member of ATFI.

Section 1216(b) of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century established a new pilot program to allow the conversion of a free interstate highway to a toll facility to fund the needed reconstruction or rehabilitation of that interstate highway when it is only possible by the collection of tolls.

While both state senators who support tolling are members of the Republican Party, the toll issue isn’t likely to settle along party lines.

State Rep. Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, opposes adding tolls to highways.

“Simply slapping a toll on something … seems to me like we’re punishing our customers,” he told the Daily Mail. “Increasing taxes decreases economic activity.”

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