By Mannix Porterfield
Outspoken Parkways Authority member Bill Seaver empathizes with southern West Virginians’ disdain for tolls imposed on the Turnpike.
“I pretty much agree with them,” Seaver said at Thursday’s board meeting.
“It has been unfair. I hate it (paying tolls).”
Yet, the great divide between that sentiment came with House passage a day earlier of HB3163, intended to turn the Turnpike over to the Division of Highways in 2020 and dismantle the toll booths.
Seaver says the idea is unworkable and is couched in flawed math outlined by a chief proponent, Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer.
Rather than eliminate the tolls, and burden the DOH with 88 miles of four-lane roadway, Seaver says he has a superior idea — throw money back into the four border counties, Kanawha, Raleigh, Fayette and Mercer.
This approach has already been proven, he said, pointing to the $2.5 million invested over a decade in the Hatfield-McCoy Trail, back when the parkways authority was in the business of economic development and tourism.
Those missions ended when Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., served as governor and narrowed the authority’s scope to merely operating the toll road.
Seaver wants Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s permission to give the counties $75,000 apiece over the next six years for use in transportation infrastructure along with some discretionary spending.
This could be applied to reimbursing school systems for money paid as children travel to Charleston for educational and athletic purposes, he said.
Another $20 million could be stashed in a special account known as the “Southern West Virginia Transportation Fund” to cover road projects in southern counties, from eight miles above Charleston to a bridge on the Virginia border, he said.
“That is a sensible way to do that,” Seaver said.
“It takes the pressure off the DOH for monies that they need. It lets our people stay employed. It creates jobs in those counties.”
Seaver scolded the House for approving the Turnpike bill on a 97-1 vote.
“The idea that a group of people would stand up and try to end jobs and then do nothing to create new jobs and do away with an $80 million stream of revenue for a department that is under-funded, and has $850 million in maintenance needs, is ridiculous,” he said.
Seaver criticized the action of the House Finance Committee as “not reasonable.”
“They passed this through in the dark of the night, brought it out with the thing still wet, and put it on the floor,” he said.
“The only comments were by Gearheart, who does not have a basic understanding of the way the math of the parkways operates.”
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