CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Citing uncertainty about the future of tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike, the state Parkways Authority agreed Thursday to open negotiations to extend the current contract with the operator of the Turnpike's travel plaza restaurants.
General Manager Greg Barr said the contract with HMS Host Marriott will expire at the end of 2014 -- about 4 1/2 years before the 30-year Turnpike bonds are to be paid off in 2019.
"When it expires, it occurs at a time when there's a lot of uncertainty about the future of the West Virginia Turnpike and the future of tolling in West Virginia," Barr said.
It could be a difficult time to go out to bid for a new food service contractor, particularly since it's unclear whether federal highway regulations would allow the travel plazas to continue to operate if the Turnpike is no longer a toll road.
HMS Host Marriott operates various food and beverage services at the Beckley, Bluestone and Morton travel plazas.
Parkways Authority members voted Thursday to authorize Barr and other Parkways officials to enter into negotiations to extend the contract.
• Authority member Bill Seaver of Princeton said he wants to see Parkways provide a small amount of funding to school systems in the four counties served by the Turnpike, to help offset toll costs for school buses in those counties.
During September legislative interim meetings, Barr told legislators that a bill to redirect $1 million a year of Parkways revenue to the four counties is not feasible.