BECKLEY, W.Va. -- Construction to make U.S. 35 a toll road took a key step forward Thursday with passage of a legal agreement between West Virginia's Parkways Authority and Division of Highways to operate the new turnpike.
Approved unanimously by the authority, the memorandum of understanding spells out the nuts and bolts of how the two agencies will cooperatively operate the proposed 31.88-mile toll road through Putnam and Mason counties.
"We're moving forward," Parkways General Manager Greg Barr said after the meeting at the Tamarack conference center.
Much still has to happen for the toll road to become a reality, including getting endorsements for the project from a local citizen advisory committee and from the two county commissions. That's expected to occur during meetings scheduled over the next two weeks.
Then, in October, the authority will receive an engineering study with traffic and revenue projections for the newly built four-lane, and also open bids for the design-build contract to complete the final 14.6-mile stretch of the highway.
Initial estimates were that the project could cost about $240 million, Barr said. However, the recession has led contractors to bid low on other recent road-building projects in the state, he said.
"We're hopeful it may be as low as $180 million," Barr said. "That will make the project much more doable if it is."
The next step would then be for the authority to sell bonds to fund the highway, bonds that could go to market before the end of this year, Barr said.
Bond counsel Roger Hunter spent more than an hour Thursday explaining the lengthy legal document, which outlines exactly how the new turnpike would operate.
Unlike the West Virginia Turnpike, which is operated and maintained virtually entirely by the Parkways Authority, the authority will be responsible only for the operation and maintenance of the toll plazas on a U.S. 35 turnpike.
The new turnpike will not have its own maintenance division, West Virginia State Police detachment or travel plazas, as the West Virginia Turnpike does.