By Mannix Porterfield
As a youngster, Delegate Rick Moye often heard the tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike would become history once the bonds were satisfied.
Times have changed, and there’s a good chance they might never be taken down.
Nothing is in stone yet, but the Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways is toying with the idea of floating a $1.1 billion bond, leaving tolls intact and raising them at intervals, tied to inflation, and allowing a freeze of only five years on E-ZPass discounts for West Virginians.
By an act of the Legislature, tolls were meant to come down in 2019, unless some change is inevitable.
“Since I was 10 years old, I was told that when the bonds were paid off, the tolls would leave,” Moye, D-Raleigh, said Friday.
“I’ve always been of the opinion that was a lie of the devil.”
Moye says he has no qualms with the concept of charging tolls but only if other parts of West Virginia have booths on their major thoroughfares as well.
For now, only the 88-mile turnpike imposes tolls.
“They’re talking about a $1 billion bond,” the delegate said.
“That’s just another way of saying they’re borrowing money.”
And once roads are either constructed or repaired, he said, more money will be needed down the road for continued maintenance.
“My kids and my kids’ children will still be paying the loan on this,” Moye said.
“I’m miffed over this. I’m not against tolls per se. But let’s put tolls in both panhandles, one up in Morgantown, and then let’s talk about raising our tolls here. It’s so unfair that Raleigh County is very unfairly targeted.”
Moye noted that both sides of his home county catch travelers with toll booths and suggested they be set up in Princeton and on MacCorkle Avenue in Charleston to make things more even.
The commission has a final meeting Sept. 19 before turning over its recommendations to its creator, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin. At one of the regional meetings this summer, a poll of the audience in Beckley showed 68 percent “strongly agreed” the turnpike polls should be left alone if money is dedicated to a “worthwhile project.”
The delegate scorned the pledge that one-fourth of the proposed bond would go to the four counties touching the turnpike, that is, Raleigh, Mercer, Fayette and Kanawha.
“I guess we’re supposed to feel good about some of that money coming back to Raleigh County,” he said.
“Take the poor guy that’s traveling that turnpike every day. He doesn’t have a high-paying job. He’s barely getting by. When he comes home, he doesn’t have the money to pay his power bill. He’s going to sit down and say, ‘Well, at least that money is coming back to Raleigh County.’ That’s going to make him feel good.”
If toll increases are linked to inflation, Moye said, then so should pay raises for state and county employees, and other retirees.
“When they retire, they have a fixed income,” he said.
“They know it will never go up. Depending on who you listen to, they lose between 3 and 6 percent in buying power every year that they’re retired. Let’s give them a cost-of-living increase on retirement based on inflation, then let’s talk about raising tolls, based on inflation.”
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