West Virginia senators suggest adding toll to make up for lack of federal highway funding


Republican West Virginia state senators Chris Walters and Daniel Hall have suggested adding a toll to a 25-mile stretch of Interstate 81 to make up for a lack of federal highway funding.

“We went from having more than $600 million in road paving funds in the late ‘90s to below $300 million now,” Walters said. “We were once on a 12-year paving cycle and due to lack of funding we’ve had to increase that to a 33-year cycle.”

Walters, 8th District-Putnam, cited a number of factors, including West Virginia’s difficult mountain terrain, the recent drop in gas prices, more fuel-efficient cars and a declining population.

“Almost half our population is retired,” he said. “Even though we have one of the higher gas taxes in the country, it’s still not bringing in enough to support our current needs.”

The governor’s office recently released a road, bridge and infrastructure study that concluded the state needs an additional billion dollars a year to meet its infrastructure needs.

“With the money we have, we don’t have a lot of great road funding options. We’ve raised sales taxes; that’s born by all West Virginians.”

The proposed toll does not come without challenges. According to federal law, a toll can’t be added to an existing interstate unless it’s part of an improvement project.

Hall, 9th District-Wyoming, said there is discussion to add lanes to Interstate 81, but it’s a matter of funding.

I-81 is heavily traveled by out-of-state residents, and Hall said those who use the roads should assist in maintaining them. His philosophy comes from living near the West Virginia Turnpike, built 40 years ago, but because the bonds to build the turnpike were recently reauthorized, he, and other West Virginians, will continue to pay the toll through 2019.

“My argument is if we keep the tolls on then the rest of the state needs to share the burden, I’ve got a burr in my saddle about that,” he said.

Congress’ recent move to patch the Highway Trust Fund through July 31 as opposed to finding a long-term solution to funding the nation’s highways and bridges only adds to uncertainty.

Hall said he spoke with Republican U.S. Rep. Evan Jenkins about the patch, and Jenkins was optimistic that Congress would agree on a long-term transportation funding plan.