The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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Our Readers Speak

April 2, 2013

Our Readers Speak - Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Math shows turnpike tolls should stay

Every time I read a letter or an interview with a local member of the Legislature concerning the removal of tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike, I am bombarded with a different set of numbers on revenue generated, cost of maintenance, number of employees, etc.

But two numbers do not change — one: The turnpike is self-funded by those who travel on it, and two: 80 percent or more of the revenue generated comes out of the pockets of people and businesses who do not live, work or own businesses in West Virginia.

There is another important number — the overwhelming majority of the people who do live, work and own businesses in West Virginia have never and will never drive one mile on the turnpike. The result of eliminating tolls on the turnpike immediately shifts the burden for replacing this lost revenue to 1.7 million citizens of West Virginia.

I have seen total revenue numbers as high as $84 million per year — $49.41 per person, and most recently as low as $64 million — $37.64 per person. We add to the equation the loss of over 300 jobs for West Virginia citizens, a commercial in-state value of approximately $81 million per year, another $47.65 per person. And for what? So the 80 percent “out-of-state users” can have a free ride while West Virginia citizens come up with additional tax revenue or reduction in public services to compensate for the lost revenue while continuing to pay the bill.

I drive the turnpike nearly every day and I pay the tolls without regret. The turnpike saves me time and money. I remember when a trip from Beckley to Princeton/Bluefield was 1.5 hours and Charleston was 2.5 hours. With gas prices at $3.79 and burning better than 2 gallons an hour — you do the math.

I have a suggestion. When the bonds are retired in 2020, simply close the access toll booths and provide any West Virginia resident who travels the turnpike frequently with an “Easy Pass” that eliminates the toll. The people who benefit the most — the people from Canada, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York — pay the bills and we profit from the excess revenue. That was the objective of the people who built the turnpike in the first place. It was a private investment to make money. Still a good idea.

John B. Thackston


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