CHARLESTON — Travelers on the West Virginia Turnpike will ring in 2022 with an increase in toll fees.
The rate for Class 1 vehicles, which includes most passenger vehicles, will increase from $4 to $4.25 effective Jan. 1, 2022, West Virginia Parkways Authority Executive Director Jeffrey Miller told the Joint Legislative Oversight Commission on the Department of Transportation Accountability on Sunday.
That rate also includes an increase to the single-fee E-ZPass annual program, which will rise from $25 a year to $26.50, Miller said. Those who took advantage of an early enrollment discount in 2018 and paid $24 for the past three years also will see the increase to $26.50, Miller said during the meeting. He said users’ participation in the program should automatically renew in 2022 under the new fee.
The 5% increase is the maximum allowed by the law that established the Roads to Prosperity program in 2017. The Parkways Authority approved the fee schedule in 2018.
West Virginia voters approved the sale of up to $1.6 billion in bonds to fund the program in 2017. The Parkways Authority has issued $595 million from toll fees to the state road construction fund to support projects for the 10 counties affected by the Turnpike, Miller said.
He told the committee that 75% of users of the single-fee program are out-of-state travelers and commercial truck traffic.
“Clearly, they use this road,” Miller said. “There’s maintenance costs associated with heavy commercial traffic on that road, so we’re pleased to be able to do that.”
During the meeting, Del. Marty Gearheart, R-Mercer, questioned Miller about whether the Parkways Authority provided proper notification of the rate increase.
Gearheart pressed Miller and Roger Hunter, general counsel for the Parkways Authority, saying it was his interpretation of the law that there had not been any new projects or increase to existing projects to justify the rate increase, which he said was part of the law. He also said the authority had not provided proper public notice of the increase.
“There’s nothing that says you automatically must increase these tolls,” Gearheart said. “There’s nothing that requires you to do that, and it does require there to be a specific, and I repeat, reading from the legislation, contract, project or bond that would require it, which you haven’t been able to name, which may or may not exist.”
Miller and Hunter told Gearheart the proposed fee schedule that allows for up to 5% increases every three years was part of public hearings that took place in 2018. They also said they had placed legal advertisements recently that met the requirements of the legislation.
“If you go back and look at the legislative history and look at one of the very last things that was added to the legislation was the language … which allowed for tolls to increase and be adjusted from time to time,” Hunter said. “The reason that’s important, and always was important from the beginning and was part of every public meeting, part of the handouts at the public meetings, was that you couldn’t really get to the target of (the bond sale) if you didn’t include some automatic toll increases from time to time.”