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W.Va Commission Proposes to Let Out-of Staters Pay Transportation Tab

It's the state transportation version of an hotel tax - increase a fee predominantly paid by outsiders. However, increasing and extending the toll on the West Virginia Turnpike won't be sufficient to meet all of the state's transportation needs.
September 10, 2013, 6am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Phil Kabler reports on the recommendations of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways to increase revenue for the sagging Road Fund. According to Kabler, the current tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike, operated by the West Virginia Parkways Authority, are due to expire in 2019. The commission's proposal, modeled on a July 1st increase of Ohio Turnpike tolls that would fund statewide transportation improvements, would raise and extend the tolls for an additional 30 years in order "to issue $1 billion in road bonds".

Jason Pizatella, chief counsel to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and chairman of the commission, noted that out-of-state vehicles account for 76 percent of the tolls collected on the Turnpike.

"Essentially, what we have here is out-of-state drivers subsidizing one of our most heavily traveled highways," he said.

For the 24% of in-state users of the turnpike - which, according to Wikipedia, also operates as "Interstate 77 for its entire length as well as Interstate 64 from Charleston to just south of Beckley", they would be spared any rate increase for five years if they used WV Turnpike E-ZPass.

Other recommendations from the blue ribbon commission include:

  • Increasing the vehicle registration, title and driver's license fees. that haven't been increased for 40 years.
  • A new "$200-a-year fee on alternative-fuel vehicles, and a $100 annual fee on gas/electric hybrid vehicles" [See "Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Fees are Here to Stay, and Spreading"].
  • "(D)edicating sales tax collections on purchases of auto parts, services or repairs to the state Road Fund."

While Gov. Tomblin vetoed a bill two years ago to increase registration fees, Kabler noted (in a phone call) that he was up for re-election and that he is now termed-out.

Like the Ohio Turnpike funding plan, revenue will be insufficient to meet W.Va's transportation needs. Two commissioners noted that "the funding proposals still fall far short of the $1.3 billion a year of additional funding that consultants said is needed to complete and maintain all state highway projects".  [The $1 billion generated by from the turnpike tolls are generated over a 30-year period].

Finally, Kabler wrote that the commission approved studying "the possibility of replacing the gas tax with a vehicle-miles-traveled tax, as well as dedicating a portion of a proposed Marcellus Shale natural gas Future Fund to state roads", similar to the Texas measure that goes before voters next year.  They rejected an increase in the state gas tax of 34.7 cents, 11th highest (PDF) in the nation. According to West Virginia Watchdog, the gas tax "based on wholesale prices" increased last year by 1.2 cents."

Contributor's note: Tolls on I-77 and I-64 that are part of the W.Va turnpike are "grandfathered". Interstates, by definition, lack tolls except for those segments that had tolls prior to becoming an interstate highway.  See a Trucking Info article for more information.

Full Story:
Published on Wednesday, September 4, 2013 in The Charleston Gazette
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