By ANDREA LANNOM
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice Tuesday signed a bill that would create a single-fee E-ZPass program and set the date to vote on highway bonds.
In a late morning press conference, Justice signed Senate Bill 1003, which is part of his roads package. The bill establishes a one-time annual user fee program for West Virginians to ride through the turnpike tolls. This program also is open to out-of-state residents.
“We are truly going to be able to let Mountaineers go for free,” Justice said. “Mountaineers have always been free and other than the $8 (for the single fee program), instead of the hassle going through and paying the tolls each time.”
The bill gives the West Virginia Parkways Authority the ability to issue revenue bonds to finance roads projects and allows tolls to be collected electronically. Bonds connected to toll revenue are for projects in 10 southern West Virginia counties contiguous to the turnpike.
Justice said he felt the bill will “truly save our state.”
“Today will be the start of us launching ourselves into creating real jobs and real opportunity,” Justice said. “And our arteries within our state will be able to bring people, tourism and manufacturing on and on into our state.”
Justice also announced the date to vote on highway bonds. Residents will vote Oct. 7 on whether to approve the issuance of $1.6 billion of state bonds to build and upgrade the state’s roads and bridges.
In a Tuesday news release, the governor’s office said the passage of this amendment, called the Roads to Prosperity amendment, is necessary to implement the governor’s vision of creating 48,000 road-building jobs.
“If it fails, this state is history. It’s gone,” Justice said. “That’s all there is to it. If it fails, we will … not be able to generate the revenue we’ve plugged into the budget as economic gain in revenue. If that happens, you spin back around and further cut DHHR, K-12 and universities. We will have a complete meltdown if this doesn’t go through.”
Greg Barr, Parkways general manager, said with the passage of the parkways bill, the requirement that the bonds must come off when they are paid off has been repealed. Now, the turnpike and tolls can be leveraged to generate revenue to help fund other projects while also maintaining the turnpike itself, he said.
Barr said there will have to be a toll increase to create excess money that will go to the debt service on the new bonds.
“So, the single fee program is blended in with a toll increase is how we are going to generate more money,” he said.
He said there will be a traffic study to calculate different ranges of what is based on different toll rates and how much excess revenue can be generated. He said that study will dictate the size of the bonds.
These two measures are part of the governor’s larger road project. Last week, Justice signed Senate Bill 1006, which increases funding for the State Road Fund. That bill increases DMV fees and raises the registration fee to $50. It increases the privilege tax for purchasing a car from 5 percent to 6 percent and increases the minimum average of the wholesale gas to $3.04 per gallon.
Justice said Secretary of Transportation Tom Smith has 500 projects in the works. Smith said last week the plan is to get started as early as next month with $30 million in advanced reconstruction resurfacing work going out almost immediately.
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