The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

April 4, 2013

Removing turnpike tolls

The Register-Herald

— Certainly, no one feels like doing a cartwheel after paying a $2 fee to pass through each toll plaza on the West Virginia Turnpike.

That’s a given.

But removing tolls altogether while changing who is responsible for the road may not be the best solution either.

Having traveled the highway that opened in 1954, one that has charged motorists for passage ever since, most of us probably never considered the likelihood that driving the road that connects Princeton to Beckley to Charleston could one day be toll-free.

There’s an effort to change that at the current legislative session in Charleston.

A bill that would also shift control of the turnpike from the West Virginia Parkways Authority into the hands of the Division of Highways is up for passage.

But even if the bill gets to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s desk, the attempt to remove tolls by 2020 could be an exercise in futility.

The year 2020 is the target because that would come after current outstanding bonds would be retired.

Tomblin says the bill is premature because a blue ribbon commission report isn’t due until the summer. That panel has been scrutinizing West Virginia’s road needs for several months. It is expected to reveal its findings long after this legislative session ends next week.

It’s no secret that all sources of funding for roads and bridges are going to be explored. Instead of removing sources of revenue, like tolls, we might well come to expect more tolls being added in other places across West Virginia.

Of course, tolls are meant to cover the costs of building and maintaining roads.

Perhaps instead of removing tolls for all vehicles, there could be lanes assigned for large commercial trucks to pass through and pay tolls, still generating much-needed income for the state while giving commuters and travelers some relief.

It’s one avenue worth investigating.

Maintaining and improving highways are of the utmost importance to our state.

The West Virginia Turnpike is a vital road for southern West Virginia and the Eastern Seaboard.

Take a look any day at the number of commercial trucks lumbering down the turnpike, and one can see how valuable it is to transportation and commerce.

With its 88 miles of pavement winding through once-rugged territory in the West Virginia hills — one chock full of long inclines and downhills, sharp curves and often weather-threatened road conditions — it’s a highway that we feel requires its own attention.

Could the DOH tackle the additional workload just efficiently as the West Virginia Parkways Authority has?

The weather issue alone is a critical element, as road conditions change rapidly in many sections of the turnpike, requiring fast action to maintain safe passage.

Part of the process of the committee’s study will include public input.

No doubt, there will be public meetings set up for this purpose.

We encourage readers in our area to be involved in this process.

In the meantime, don’t get too giddy over the thought of tolls going away.