Fresh bonds to finance needed repairs could lessen the sting motorists may feel when an inevitable toll increase arrives on the West Virginia Turnpike, its governing agency learned Friday.

But the matter of allowing new bonds to be issued now rests with the Legislature, the result of a law that grew out of a public outcry three years ago when the state Parkways Authority, without notice, suddenly imposed the first toll increase since 1981, a move that was later overturned in court.

Disrepair is evident from one end to the other of the 88-mile toll road — and repairs aren’t cheap.

For instance, in a mile-long stretch just south of Beckley, a new crop of potholes, some 180 in all, will require as much as $3 million to repair, but it might before the spring thaw before this task is tackled.

Bond counsel Roger Hunter likened the concept of assuming more indebtedness to that of a homeowner facing a leaky roof.

One can apply stopgap measures such as tar on a pay-as-you-go basis or take out a loan to install a new roof that lasts for years and avoid the need to shell out money on a recurring basis, he explained.

Not only would fewer dollars be invested in the long-term approach, but motorists wouldn’t be hit with as dramatic a toll increase when the inevitable day arrives to ask for one, Hunter explained.

Turnpike manager Greg Barr said the bonding option is among the information that will be contained when new studies are performed, leading up to the formal move to approve the first toll increase in 28 years.

“As part of our studies, they will look at those options when we go to public hearings,” Barr said.

“It’s important that the public sees what it will cost without bonding and what it will cost with bonding. That will get the public comment. How does the public feel about that? If the public feels there should be bonding, maybe that has an impact on legislators.”

Lawmakers have no say in what fares are charged, but have enacted a law that requires their approval in any bonding issues sought by the turnpike’s board.

Meantime, the authority’s chairman, Joe Martin, is leaving his post as Gov. Joe Manchin’s deputy chief of staff as of today, ending more than three decades of public service.

Not only does Manchin have Martin’s shoes to fill on the Parkways Authority, he also is in the market for a successor to longtime member Alan Susman.

Susman stepped down this month after serving on the turnpike’s governing agency 28 years.

Gubernatorial spokesman Matt Turner said he expects Manchin to fill both slots on the authority next week.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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