Following the doubling of the tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike beginning Jan. 15, the West Virginia Parkways Authority reported it brought in an all-time record amount of toll booth revenue during the peak 11-day travel period surrounding the July Fourth holiday.
“During peak times during this week, we were processing 2,000 transactions per hour,” said Doug Ratcliff, director of tolls for the West Virginia Parkways Authority.
Numbers released showed toll revenue this year — from Thursday, June 27, through Sunday, July 7 — came in at more than $5.6 million.
“That’s a nearly 77 percent increase from the same 11-day travel window last year, when toll revenues came in at about $3.2 million from Thursday, June 28, 2018, through Sunday, July 8, 2018,” Ratcliff said.
While some traffic backups were reported at the toll booths, every effort was made to address them, Ratcliff said.
“During these heavy travel periods, we cannot keep a designated E-ZPass lane open,” he explained. “It would make the traffic backups even worse.”
Ratcliff says during peak travel times, they will open tandem toll booths to help ease the traffic congestion.
“We have two booths opened in the same lane, which allows us to do two transactions in one lane at the same time,” he said. “This can increase the amount of transactions in one lane by as much as 200 vehicles an hour.”
While the revenue was up from last year, the number of transactions was down 25,136, or just over 1.7 percent, from 1,456,781 in 2018 to 1,431,645 in 2019.
Former Republican delegate Marty Gearheart said Friday that while the revenue is up, the decline in the number of transactions raises some economic questions.
“They are reporting additional highway dollars for the West Virginia [Parkways Authority], but at what price for West Virginians?” Gearheart said. “We are talking about 25,000 fewer folks traveling. [I’m] not sure what that translates to in business for merchants that deal with highway traffic, but it couldn’t be good.”
Ratcliff says that while transactions were down slightly for the July Fourth holiday week, overall transactions on the Turnpike are up compared to last year.
“It’s about a half of a percent, but they are up,” he said.
Drivers now pay $4 per toll instead of $2 — a change approved in June 2018.
There are three mainline toll plazas on the West Virginia Turnpike. They are located at Chelyan (Toll Plaza C) at milepost 83, Pax (Toll Plaza B) at milepost 56 and Ghent (Toll Plaza A) at milepost 30. There is also one side toll located on W.Va. 19 at the North Beckley Exit (Exit 48).
The last time tolls increased was in 2009, when they went up from $1.25 to $2.
Officials with the West Virginia Department of Transportation and the West Virginia Parkways Authority said the extra money from the tolls will help fund projects along the Turnpike, including road and bridge repairs in southern West Virginia.
The West Virginia Turnpike is a four-lane toll highway, 88 miles in length, between Princeton and Charleston. Interstate 77 is carried by the entire length of the Turnpike. Interstate 64 is carried from Charleston to south of the city of Beckley. The Turnpike has 116 bridges, which is more than one every mile.