For over six decades, motorists from West Virginia and drivers outside the state have been paying to use the West Virginia Turnpike. In 1947, Legislators decided this road was a necessary addition to our state.
The turnpike now stretches from Princeton to Charleston, consisting of 88 miles and four toll booths. The toll booths are currently scheduled to be removed in 2019. At that time, the bonds to finance the road will be paid in full, but not everyone wants to see the toll booths disappear.
Toll foreman, Terry Oxley, has worked for the the West Virginia Parkway Authority for more than 32 years. He says his biggest fear is the tolls being removed. “I really don’t think we can stand to lose anymore jobs. We’ve got people out here that have been here for twenty, twenty-five years, and they’ve got families, homes, stuff like that, they don’t want to see that go to the ways side and then try to find something else, there would be no jobs.”
The West Virginia Turnpike has plenty of history. The toll booths were originally scheduled to come down in 1989, but when the time came, the bond for the turnpike was not paid off. The Legislature then re-issued new bonds that will mature in 2019.
Marty Gearheart wants to make a plan, so the tolls come down smoothly. “Right now the code says the tolls will be removed in June of 2019, however there is no plan for that.”
To make sure that jobs aren’t lost another bill has been introduced. If passed, Senate Bill 397 allows the tolls to continue as they are.
Greg Barr, the General Manager for the West Virginia Parkways Authority, feels the tolls are needed. “Tolls have such an impact on the revenue of the state. The bill has not identified any alternative to make up for the loss of funding from tolling.”
The West Virginia Parkways Authority employs 360 workers. Without the tolls, those jobs disappear. The writers of bill 4222 says this is why a plan needs to be in place.
Gearheart says the bill would provide workers a seamless transfer from the Parkways to the West Virginia Division of Highways. Oxley says those working for the turnpike aren’t counting on Government jobs, “The state cannot absorb the 160 toll collectors we have out here. I know they say they would transfer us to other jobs, where would they transfer us, where is the job, they haven’t laid out jobs for us to see.”
The tolls also have a financial impact on daily commuters. Many people are paying $12 round trip in tolls to travel from Princeton to Charleston.
Gearheart feels the tolls are hurting pockets of motorist and aren’t fair. “The tolls on the Turnpike are are a broken promise from the state of West Virginia, to the people of West Virginia. The law was passed in 1949 that indicated that 30 years after the highway was open, it would be free of tolls.”
Linda Christians, who was traveling along the Turnpike agrees. “If you pay taxes for the state, those taxes should take care of the roads. You shouldn’t have to pay tolls to use a road, especially when you’re traveling from state to state. I just don’t think it’s fair.”
Barr disagrees, he feels tolls are great for the economy, “There are some that say the tolls are a hindrance on economic development, but as far as I can tell having a good road that is well maintained has done well for a lot of areas in Southern West Virginia. For just five dollars a year, you get a free transponder and your tolls are reduced .70 cents at every toll plaza.”
The four toll booths along the turnpike bring in an annual revenue of 85 million dollars, 76% of it is from out of state users. It’s an issue with many layers, but the bottom line is if neither bill is passed by the year 2019, the tolls will close without a plan.
This years legislative session ends on March 12, 2016 and at this point neither bill has made it to the floor, so it looks like this issue might have to wait another year to be discussed.