BRADENTON, Fla. West Virginia’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways recommended the state implement a toll bond program to raise up to $1 billion to address a deficit in funds needed for transportation projects.
The recommendation will become part of the commission’s final report to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who was non-committal when he first heard the idea several weeks ago.
The commission Tomblin empaneled to address stagnant transportation revenue collections and burgeoning capital needs decided Sept. 19 that existing tolls on 88-mile West Virginia Turnpike could be increased to finance new projects.
The West Virginia Parkways Authority, which operates the turnpike, told the panel that three-quarters of its toll revenue is paid by out-of-state residents, according to the West Virginia MetroNews Network.
“It would appear that over a period of time, probably, if we continue with the current toll structure the debt retirement would be paid for predominately by out of state motorists,” commission member Tom Witt reportedly said.
The commission’s final report will recommend maintaining current transponder rates and discount schedules, as well as recommending that $250 million of the bond proceeds be used on road projects in Mercer, Raleigh, Fayette, and Kanawha counties where the turnpike is located.
Turnpike tolls would increase to pay for the additional bonds ranging from $600 million to $1 billion based on models implemented in Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The commission included two options for the governor to consider. A plan based on the Ohio turnpike program would raise $600 million over 30 years, and would require increasing tolls by 10% percent in the first year and 2.7% percent each year over the following decade, according to the State Journal newspaper.
Based on Pennsylvania’s plan, $1 billion would be generated by increasing tolls 25% percent the first year, and by another 3% a year for 20 years.
In addition to the toll bonds, the commission earlier this month also voted to recommend increasing various motor vehicle fees, placing new fees on alternative-fuel vehicles and gas/electric hybrids, and dedicating sales tax revenues collected on auto parts and services to the state road fund.
Other kinds of future funding for roads, such as replacing the gas tax with a vehicle-miles-traveled tax, will be studied.
Tomblin is expected to use the commission’s report to prepare bills for the Legislature to consider next year.
The West Virginia Division of Highways maintains 92% of roads in the state or about 36,000 miles. The DOH has $11.1 billion of pent-up demand for highway needs over the next 25 years, and another $2.4 billion for the 6,243 of state-owned bridges.