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Panhandle lawmakers give governor's toll-road idea bumpy reaction

Manchin proposing making W.Va. 9, U.S. 340 and U.S. 522 toll highways

Manchin proposing making W.Va. 9, U.S. 340 and U.S. 522 toll highways

February 20, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Gov. Joe Manchin is being criticized for an idea that W.Va. 9, U.S. 340 and U.S. 522 could be converted to toll highways to help pay for road improvements.

State Sen. John Unger said Manchin made the comments during a photo opportunity for Leadership Jefferson, a program sponsored by the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce.

Unger strongly criticized the idea, saying Manchin is basically "looking to the Eastern Panhandle as an ATM machine."

Manchin made the comments last Tuesday in the Capitol during a state government program for Leadership Jefferson, said Heather Morgan, executive director of the local Chamber of Commerce.

Morgan said she remembers Manchin talking about the toll road idea, but she said it seemed to be in the early stages of consideration.

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Morgan said she believes such a proposal would be very unpopular in the Eastern Panhandle.

One possibility under the toll concept is that a private company could put money up front to pay for improvements to the roads with tolls being collected from motorists to pay back the money, said Lara Ramsburg, director of communications for Manchin's office.

Although money from such toll operations would go into a fund for local road improvements, the money also would be used for other roads in the state, said Unger, D-Berkeley/Jefferson.

Del. John Doyle said he had has heard rumblings about the idea and also disliked it.

"I think it's lousy," said Doyle, D-Jefferson.

Ramsburg on Tuesday cautioned that there is no plan to put tolls on Eastern Panhandle highways and emphasized that any such proposal would be presented to the local community to gauge reaction.

Ramsburg said the idea for toll roads came about because of additional work that needs to be completed on local roads and declining federal funds to help pay for the work.

Ramsburg said more money is needed to expand W.Va. 9 to four lanes, although she did not have exact figures Tuesday.

Ramsburg said W.Va. 9 has been mentioned as possibly being part of a toll program.

Unger and Doyle said U.S. 522 in Morgan County and U.S. 340 in Jefferson County also have been mentioned, although Ramsburg could not verify that.

Under a toll proposal, Manchin would be able to present a scenario to residents where highway projects could be completed faster with toll revenues, Ramsburg said.

Manchin has worked with the Legislature on how the proposal would be structured and how local communities would be allowed to weigh in on the idea, Ramsburg said.

"We wouldn't just do it. We wouldn't mandate it," Ramsburg said.

Ramsburg said the toll idea would not be limited to the Eastern Panhandle. It has also been considered for the Mason County area in southern West Virginia, Ramsburg said.

Unger said the Eastern Panhandle is already wrestling with financial problems like higher taxes and inadequate teacher pay and does not need to be saddled with toll roads.

Unger said he wants to know why Charleston, W.Va., the state's capital city, has not been eyed for toll roads.

"I guarantee there's more traffic down here (in Charleston) than there is in the Eastern Panhandle. I'm going to stand up and fight this," Unger said.

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