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Parkways head gives update on traffic and revenue study, implementation of single-rate EZ Pass

By ANDREA LANNOM

The Register-Herald

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — The head of the West Virginia Parkways Authority said he anticipates completion of a traffic and revenue study to happen around January.

Gregg Barr, general manager of the West Virginia Parkways Authority, updated legislators in Sunday’s Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on Department of Transportation Accountability.

Barr gave legislators an approximate timeline of what he anticipates to happen within the next few years with implementing a single-rate E-Z Pass program and changing the toll rate structure and gave an estimate on when people could start seeing work done on some of the projects.

Under the Gov. Jim Justice’s Roads to Prosperity program, there are three legs to the stool, Barr explained. The first is the GARVEE capacity to fund new road projects. The second was the referendum to permit the bond sales up to $1.6 billion to fund roads and transportation projects. The third is to leverage Parkways toll revenue and other revenues to fund up to another $500 million in bonds in a 10-county region, he said.

These counties are Raleigh, Fayette, Wyoming, Mercer, Kanawha, Greenbrier, Monroe, Summers, McDowell, and Nicholas.

The traffic and revenue study, which is under way now, will determine the toll rate structure and the flat rate of the E-Z Pass. The single-rate will be between $8-$25 annually. Barr said the study is the “biggest component” of the program.

He said he hopes to have early information from the traffic and revenue engineers by Dec. 2 but this will not be the final report. The final report, Barr said, could be completed by January.

He said online surveys and mailings have been sent out to EZ Pass holders. He also said notifications have gone out online in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

“The survey work went very well,” Barr said. “We got far more responses than experts thought we may get. This helps build confidence and reliability in the results.”

February is when Barr expects to start the process of public meetings, which will be held in each county that borders the turnpike. However, before those meetings take place, Barr said, all studies and reports must be made available to the public.

He said one of the next steps taking place is completing the building of a work group to make sure bonds get done in a timely and proper manner. He said the financial advisor, which serves as the state’s financial advisor, has already been selected.

Parkways also has chosen bond counsel to make sure they comply with tax laws and other state and federal laws to put a plan of finance together.

He said Parkways still needs to pick an underwriter. Barr said the request for proposal went out earlier this month and proposals are due Nov. 20.

“In the end, all of the studies, the traffic and revenue, consulting engineers, capital means studies, bond counsel opinions — they’re all combined into a plan of finance,” Barr said. “That plan goes to rating agencies in New York. … Presentations are made at the rating agencies explaining what the plan of finance is.”

He said Parkways will have to go back and take a look 18 months to two years later at the effect of the single-fee discount and how it compares to the traffic and revenue study.

Barr said he expects to close on the bonds in April. Next May is when he expects to have bonds sold and money deposited in that special account for projects to be let.

He said he also expects to have a rate structure in place and implementation of the toll rate structure. However, he said the structure could go into effect in July or January 2019 depending on how Parkways decides to implement it. He said the structure could be phased in so the commercial industry would have time to build the increase into their contracts.

Once the rate structure is approved, he said they will implement the single-fee program. He said current E-Z Pass holders who may be paying a higher rate will get a pro rata refund for the money they overpaid for the program.

Barr said there will be a smaller bond issue to start, representing about $120 million, for three main projects. These are Route 10 safety projects, the “bridge to nowhere” in Mercer County, and bridge replacement projects in the 10-county area.

He said he didn’t anticipate much dirt to move in 2018; however, the projects could start the following year.

Email: [email protected]; follow on Twitter @AndreaLannom

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