CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A Senate Transportation Committee resolution (SCR55) calls for an interim study of the feasibility of doing away with the Parkways Authority and making the Division of Highways responsible for the operation and maintenance of the 88-mile West Virginia Turnpike.
However, bond counsel Brian Helmick told the Select Committee on Infrastructure that's not feasible, since it would require breaking bond covenants and violating the Constitution.
"In this case, it would be big deal," he told legislators.
He said there's currently about $54.8 million of principal on the 1989 bond issue to be paid off, and when the bonds were sold in 1989, and some refinanced in 2002, bond covenants mandated that the Parkways Authority would be an independent body that would operate and adequately maintain the Turnpike until the bonds are retired.
Paying off the bonds early would be a possibility, but at a cost of an additional $7.4 million in interest and penalty payments, he said.
Likewise, the Division of Highways cannot simply take over the authority's bond debt.
"To put it under the Division of Highways would make it a general obligation of the state of West Virginia, which would be unconstitutional, unless the voters approved it," Helmick said.
The state can only take on bond debt if voters approve a constitutional amendment authorizing the bond sale in a statewide referendum.
"The state of West Virginia is not allowed to incur debt without a vote of the people," Helmick said.