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The Turnpike Toll Tussle

By Patrice Mitchell
On March 9, 2016

    Beckley resident and Concord commuter student, Porsha Williams, travels the interstate from Beckley to the Athens campus daily. In her near thirty miles of commute, she passes through two toll booths: one coming and one going. In addition to books, tuition, gas, and other school expenses, commuters traveling the Turnpike also have the additional fees from toll booths. Like may other residents throughout West Virginia and commuting Concord students, Williams opted to purchase an EZ Pass. Also like many southern West Virginians burdened with paying tolls to travel to and from the state capitol on interstate I-77, she does not feel like the toll fees are necessary or fair.

    “I use to pay [for the tolls] every day, but for the last few years I’ve purchased an EZ Pass quarterly. That’s $25 for three months. But, I don’t like paying money to travel to school because I already pay money to attend school,” says Williams.

     In May 2019 the West Virginia Parkways Authority will have paid off the construction bonds for interstate 77. Toll booths throughout the 88 miles of road between Princeton and Beckley charge each traveling vehicle two dollars per booth. Trucks pay about three to twelve dollars depending on their length and size. There is also one booth that costs forty cent off the interstate in Beckley. For southern West Virginians, the total cost to travel to and from the state capitol on Interstate 77 is twelve dollars. When the bonds are paid off, the tolls are expected to be removed.

    Senate Bill 397 will extend The West Virginia Parkway Authority and allow for the continued operations of the turnpike tolls. The official website for the West Virginia Legislature gives a summary of the bill stating, “Maintaining status quo in event bond indebtedness to Parkways Authority is eliminated.” In simpler terms that means if they continue to balance the Department of Highway budget, maintain state roads, and retain jobs in the event the toll booth operations cease and the state loses that revenue.

    According  to the official West Virginia Parkways Authority website, only 16 percent of cars that pass through the toll booths are West Virginia passenger cars, and eight percent are West Virginia commercial vehicles. Meanwhile 76 percent of the 85 million dollars in revenue brought in by toll operations is from out of state commercial and privately owned vehicles.

    The tolls have been positioned on the West Virginia Turnpike since 1989. The plans were originally to only keep the tolls in operation until the construction bonds were paid off. However, West Virginia is currently experiencing a budget deficit with no clear solution to the complex systematic issues that we face throughout the state. In order to help balance the state budget deficit of 353 million dollars, law makers proposed an “across-the-board cut” of 4 percent for most West Virginia government agencies this legislative session. State funded public schools received a cut of 1 percent, even though this area hasn’t been subject to budget cuts in the past few years. The tolls throughout the interstate from Princeton to Charleston bring in about 85 million dollars in revenue. Because the West Virginia turnpike receives no money from the state or federal government, maintenance for the road is paid for by the West Virginia Parkways Authority. However, if the tolls are removed, maintenance such as snow patrol, pavement repairs and other upkeep and preventative operations will become the financial burden of the WV Department of Highways.

    Regardless of the outcome of this legislation, the impact will effect local economies as well as the economy statewide. Hundreds of jobs will be lost, including 160 toll collector positions. Many of the bridges along I-77 also are in need of repair, which will have to be done without toll money if something isn’t done.

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