Modernize the Turnpike toll booths

A Daily Mail editorial from the Charleston Gazette-Mail 

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A daunting question currently faces West Virginia lawmakers: What should be done about tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike? Or as Gazette-Mail reporter Phil Kabler wrote last week, “Should they stay or should they go?”

Under current law, the tolling program is set to expire in 2019 after the current round of 30-year bonds is retired.

However, last year’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways concluded the state needs $750 million to $1.1 billion a year of additional funding to adequately maintain and construct the state highway system.

The Senate Transportation Committee is considering a bill to keep tolls on the Turnpike beyond 2019 (SB 397), citing the $85 million a year in revenue the Turnpike produces, and the estimated $60 million a year in costs to be shifted to Division of Highways, Kabler wrote.

“We have a huge problem funding our roads,” Senate Transportation Chairman Chris Walters, R-Putnam, said last week. Yet House Roads and Transportation Committee chair Delegate Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, said he’s “comfortable and confident” in moving to repeal Turnpike tolls.

“I would consider anything to the contrary to be a broken promise to the people of southern West Virginia,” said Gearheart, a longtime foe of Turnpike tolls.

But if the tolls are removed, how would the state cover the cost of maintaining the highway?

“The 20th century highway funding system based on fuel taxes and state and federal highway trust funds is running out of gas,” says the Reason Foundation’s “Modernizing the Interstate Highway System via Toll Finance” report. “Steady increases in vehicle fuel economy, the lack of inflation indexing of fuel tax rates, and political gridlock over increasing fuel tax rates all make it very difficult even to maintain current pavement and bridge conditions…”

While no one likes tolls, they do allocate the cost of highway construction and maintenance to those who use and benefit from the road better than the fuel tax does.

Other states have new toll highways that allow motorists to zip through payment sensors without the old 20th century toll booths…

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