By Pamela Pritt
Members of the House of Delegates who sit on the Judiciary Committee were concerned Friday morning with the “Big Brother” effect of a bill that could allow electronic toll collections and the lack of a plan for use of the bill’s provisions in the next six years.
Proponents of the legislation say it’s necessary because it provides for efficiency if any toll roads are contemplated in the future and because it allows for reciprocity with neighboring states, such as Pennsylvania, that have toll roads.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s chief of staff, Jason Pizatella, said privacy concerns have been “refined in the last five years to be the strictest ... in the United States.”
He said electronic enforcement of toll collection is used in 32 states.
If federal aid to roads is cut in September with the expiration of MAP-21, Pizatella said “more and more states will be enacting this type of legislation and more and more states contemplating the use of toll roads.”
Pizatella said the governor’s Blue Ribbon Highway Commission recommended the bill. He said the bill does not affect employment of toll collectors on the West Virginia Turnpike, nor does it affect the statutory removal of the tolls in 2019.
Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, spoke against the bill during the public hearing portion of the meeting.
Gearheart said because the turnpike is the only toll road in the state, the legislation would have to apply to it.
“We are contemplating a bill that has no application,” Gearheart said.
The delegate noted that the electronic collection process would cause vehicle owners to be charged for travel on toll roads, even if someone else, including a car thief, was driving.
Paul Mattox, the secretary of the Division of Highways said, four companies manufacture electronic payment methods such as EZ-PASS used in West Virginia. While the products are not now compatible, they are mandated to be inter-operable by 2017.
In response to questions about making toll booths electronic pass only, as opposed to cash collection, Mattox said toll booths could be designed in any configuration.
Those who don’t pay the toll could have their vehicle registration renewal denied, in addition to other civil fines and penalties.
Several speakers from Mason County said they opposed the legislation because of the potential of a toll being placed on U.S. 35.
“Toll roads are a thorn in the side of economic growth,” said Delegate Scott Cadle, R-Mason. Cadle said he was elected on the basis of his opposition to tolls.
Both Pizatella and Mattox said there is no current plan to place tolls on any existing road in the state.
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