Last week, before the September Interim meetings of the West Virginia Legislature, the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways met on final time to discuss proposals regarding revenue for fixing the roads and highways in West Virginia. The Governor formed the Blue Ribbon panel to make recommendations after several stagnant years of highway funding in West Virginia. Gasoline tax revenues have leveled off and the state isn’t getting as much highway money as it used to from the federal government.
I have been a member of the Commission for the last several months as Speaker Miley appointed me to replace former Delegate Josh Stowers. The commission came up with several proposals to present to the Governor for his consideration. None of these decisions did we come by easily and each one was discussed and debated, thinking of the citizens of West Virginia and the best way to ease their burdens.
One of the proposals we approved for consideration was to keep tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike for years to come to finance as much as $1 billion in other highway projects across the state. The current bonds paying for the 88-mile Turnpike through southern West Virginia are due to be paid off in 2019 but the proposal would sell new bonds and use the money not only to upkeep the Turnpike but to finance dozens of other projects.
Now to be clear, this plan is just a proposal and would need the support of the Governor and the legislature before the Parkways Authority implemented it. However, the Parkways Authority told the Commission that 75 percent of the toll revenue is paid by out of state residents. Also, the recommendation going to the governor says the current E-ZPass rates would stay in effect for at least five years and a portion of the bond money, $250 million, would go to the four counties where the Turnpike is located, Mercer, Raleigh, Fayette and Kanawha counties, to be spent on road projects.
We were told that Ohio and Pennsylvania have implemented similar plans to meet their future road construction needs. Both states have toll increases worked into their formulas for the next 10 years. Ohio’s plan would increase tolls 10 percent initially and 2.7 percent a year for 10 years. In Pennsylvania, tolls will go up 25 percent initially and then annually according to inflation. The West Virginia plan also proposes increasing tolls.
Of course, there were some other proposals discussed including money savings through the state Department of Transportation budget process and proposals to raise fees within the state Division of Motor Vehicles that could bring in $77 million annually. Again, these are proposals that will go to the Governor and must be approved by the Legislature before taken place. I urge all of my constituents to read over the proposals and contact me or other members of the Legislature as well as the Governor with your opinions.
If you should have any questions or comments regarding any issues or bills before the legislature please feel free to contact me. To write me, my address is Delegate David Walker, State Capitol, Building 1, Room 203-E, Charleston, WV 25305. Or you may call me at (304) 340-3135. I encourage all my constituents to remain active and become part of the legislative process.