West Virginia Division of Highways Official: ‘Absolutely’ No Tolling on Interstate 70

Photo by Scott McCloskey Interstate 70 in Ohio County would see more than $172 million in bridge upgrades if voters pass a $1.6 billion statewide road bond referendum on Oct. 7.

West Virginia Division of Highways District 6 Engineer Gus Suwaid says there will be no tolling on Interstate 70 after a proposed major rehabilitation of bridges along the highway in Ohio County.

Suwaid discussed the upcoming state road bond referendum set to go before voters on Oct. 7 — and the projects the road bonds would fund — before a small gathering of Wheeling Area Chamber of Commerce members Wednesday night in the Wheeling Hospital auditorium. Early voting in the special election will begin Sept. 22.

The I-70 bridge project in Ohio County is estimated to cost over $172 million, and it is the largest of the projects set to be financed by the sale of general obligation bonds that would be authorized through passage of the referendum.

The West Virginia Legislature this year passed a bill that has led some to believe the major overhaul of I-70 could lead to tolling on the highway. The measure states tolls could be considered on roads where bridges are replaced or constructed.

“That is absolutely not the case in Ohio County,” Suwaid said Wednesday. He isn’t yet certain what the scope of the construction will be on I-70, as design and engineering has not yet been determined. That work would be done after passage of the referendum.

A large slate of road projects with an estimated price tag of $1.6 billion would be green-lighted if West Virginia voters pass the referendum on Oct. 7, and the general obligation bond money used to pay for the work.

The bonds would be repaid with money generated by increases in the state’s gas tax and vehicle licensing fees this year, which will amount to about $130 million, according to Suwaid. This money is equal to just over 10 percent of the WVDOH’s annual budget of $1.2 billion.

Passage of the referendum would allow the state to address roads concerns now, create construction jobs, and avoid higher costs later, he said. If it fails, he said the DOH would continue “to do business as usual” with a yearly budget that is 10 percent higher.