Trucking companies, others seek West Virginia toll freeze

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A lawyer for a dozen West Virginia businesses has asked a judge to freeze temporarily toll increases for the West Virginia Turnpike, according to the Associated Press. Kanawha County Circuit Court Judge Irene Berger didn’t immediately rule on the lawsuit, filed by Princeton attorney Anthony Veneri on Friday, Feb. 3.

Veneri represents companies claiming that they will be harmed severely by the Jan. 1 rate increase by the Parkways, Economic Development and Tourism Authority. Veneri has asked Berger to freeze the increases by up to three months so that the issue could be studied. Veneri said if Berger rejects the preliminary injunction, he will appeal to the state Supreme Court. State lawmakers previously have questioned the existence of the authority — which is autonomous and doesn’t need legislative approval to raise tolls — and have called for a rollback of turnpike tolls.

The authority’s seven-member board voted Dec. 14 to increase toll prices from $1.25 to $2 per toll booth for passenger vehicles and from $4.25 to $7 for five-axle commercial trucks. The increases marked the first time that turnpike tolls had been raised since 1981. The authority has said the higher tolls are necessary to pay for maintenance and for a capital-improvements program that includes a new $55 million interchange at Shady Spring and a $62 million project to widen eight miles between U.S. 19 and the Interstate 64 split in Beckley.

Most of the trucking companies already had negotiated contracts for the new year when the toll increases were announced and could not raise their prices to cover the additional costs. Bill Calfee of Princeton told the AP that his American Block Co. could lose $200,000 and would have to lay off a 10-worker shift if tolls aren’t reduced.

According to the AP, authority representative Alex Macia told Berger that reducing the tolls would harm the agency. “We’re going to lose $2.4 million in revenues,” Macia said. “The financial burden “weighs heavily in favor of the authority,” he said.