Commissioners also cited surveys conducted at public hearings this summer -- including majorities at hearings in Beckley and Princeton -- which found 78 percent of participants favored keeping tolls on the Turnpike to fund other highway projects.
Gearhart, however, said he believes a vast majority of residents of Mercer and Raleigh counties oppose extending tolls on the Turnpike.
"Most of the folks I've talked to indicate they would be close to mutiny over that," he said.
Gearhart said he's not convinced the funding gap to build and maintain highways is as severe as the $1.3 billion a year that consultants for the commission cited.
"I'm not certain we have a billion-dollar problem," he said.
He said he also was disappointed the commission took highways officials at their word that they had enacted cost efficiencies, including a 10 percent reduction in personnel, saving more than $100 million a year.
Gearhart said the commission should have had an outside auditor review the Division of Highways' operations to determine if additional efficiencies and cost savings could be achieved.
Gearhart also called the assertion that the commission's recommendations will not require higher taxes "a massive deception," since Turnpike tolls, combined with increases in various DMV charges and fees to raise an additional $77 million a year, will impose a burden on state taxpayers, particularly those in Southern West Virginia.
He noted that when Tomblin was campaigning in Bluefield in the 2011 special election for governor, he was quoted as saying he favored repealing the tolls in 2019, stating, "That's a promise that needs to be made eight years from now. The tolls need to come down."
Under current law, Turnpike tolls would not automatically expire once the bonds are retired. The highways commissioner would have to accept the Turnpike into the state road system if he determines the it is in good condition and determines the division has adequate funds to take over its maintenance and operations.
Reach Phil Kabler at ph...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.