CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Tolls and increased motor vehicle fees -- but no tax increases -- would pay for West Virginia road construction, under proposals offered Wednesday by the governor's Blue Ribbon Commission on Highways.
The centerpiece of the proposals is legislation to authorize the state Parkways Authority to issue $1 billion in road bonds, to be financed by continuing and increasing tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike.
Jason Pizatella, chief counsel to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and chairman of the commission, noted that out-of-state vehicles account for 76 percent of the tolls collected on the Turnpike.
"Essentially, what we have here is out-of-state drivers subsidizing one of our most heavily traveled highways," he said.
Modeled after a recent $1.5 billion bond issue by the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission, the plan would keep tolls on the Turnpike for another 30 years and would provide a much-needed infusion of road-building funds, Pizatella said.
While the plan ultimately would require Parkways to increase tolls on the Turnpike, the proposal calls for freezing rates for West Virginia E-ZPass users for five years.
"The state would be able to complete road projects now that, otherwise, would not be completed for 20 years or more," Pizatella said, adding, "All of this would be accomplished without one single penny of higher taxes."
Through nine public hearings around the state this summer and a survey of nearly 1,400 residents, Pizatella said, the commission got a clear message that West Virginians oppose any increases in gas taxes, motor vehicle privilege taxes or the consumer sales tax to fund work on state roads.
"Given the economic climate we're in," he said, "we just didn't think it was appropriate."
Earlier, commission member Jan Vineyard, chairwoman of the legislative and public-outreach subcommittee, noted that proposed tax increases came in as the three least-favorable options for road funding in the survey.
Conversely, 78 percent of those polled favored keeping tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike. Vineyard, president of the West Virginia Oil Marketers and Grocers Association, noted that support was strong even at public hearings in Beckley and Princeton.
"We expected to see that in the Fairmont area, the Wheeling area, but we were certainly surprised to see that in Southern West Virginia," she said of support for the Turnpike tolls.
The commission, created by Tomblin in August 2012, also is proposing about $103 million a year in new road funding, primarily by increasing a variety of Division of Motor Vehicles fees.