Deadline extended for E-ZPass signups
CHARLESTON — West Virginia drivers will have an extra 11 days to sign up for the one-time, $24 three- year unlimited use E-ZPass plan after the board of the West Virginia Parkways Authority voted unanimously Friday afternoon to extend the program’s deadline to Jan. 11.
The vote came in an emergency meeting at 1:30 p.m. Friday, as dozens of residents stood lined up around the Parkways Authority’s building, located just outside of Charleston, to sign up for the program before the original Dec. 31 deadline.
“We realized there was extensive demand and it just wasn’t a safe situation, having people parking and walking on Piedmont (Road), where it’s (an) especially narrow, two-lane road,” said Greg Barr, general manager of the Parkways Authority. “The deal has really attracted people, and as the deadline grew closer, demand has continued to mount.”
Tolls on the West Virginia Turnpike will still double in price come Jan. 1, from $2 to $4 at three toll booths: Chelyan (Toll Plaza C) at milepost 83, Pax (Toll Plaza B) at milepost 56 and Ghent (Toll Plaza A) at milepost 30.
Barr said he expects there may be additional demand for the $24, three-year deal after the increase, which is something the Parkways board will address at its next meeting Jan. 10.
“That’ll give us nine or 10 days to get an idea of what we’re dealing with and go from there,” Barr said. “The whole idea wasn’t to rush this and prevent people from signing up - we want as many people as possible to sign up.”
Drivers can sign up for the program by fax or online by midnight Jan. 11. Those who want to mail the forms must have them postmarked by that date as well.
The Parkways Authority’s office on Piedmont Road will also be open Monday, Dec. 31 - a recently declared state holiday - to process applications for walk-ins.
Those who miss the extended deadline for the three-year deal will still be able to buy an annual $25 E-ZPass with unlimited toll use. After 2021, all drivers will pay $25 a year for the pass.
The toll increases were a part of Gov. Jim Justice’s “Roads to Prosperity” program in 2017. The money collected from doubling the tolls will fund more than $300 million in bonds, which will go to the West Virginia Department of Transportation to pay for road projects in 10 counties throughout Southern West Virginia.
This is the first toll increase since 2009, when they rose from $1.25 to the current rate of $2.
The Parkways Authority has not released how many people have purchased a pass since the deal, along with the toll increases, was approved in June.
“We’ve been so busy dealing with walk-ins and processing the applications that we haven’t had time to run a report,” Barr said.
While the vote was underway Friday afternoon, more than 100 people stood in a line wrapped around the Parkways Authority building, waiting to sign up for the plan.
An influx of users at http://WVTurnpike.com caused technical issues Thursday that bled into Friday morning. Many looking to sign up online were unable to during this time.
Jennifer Burgess, of Tornado, West Virginia, waited in line for nearly two hours Friday afternoon to purchase a pass for her sister, who lives in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, and was unable to fill out the paperwork online Friday morning.
“It’s not too bad out here - you’ve just got to find yourself some good company to wait with,” she said, nodding at the couple behind her who drove up from Monroe County to sign up for the plan.
Bill Schwartz, of Charleston, and Neal Hassie, of Milton, said the main reason they were there Friday was because of procrastination.
“Really that’s it. That’s the answer,” Hassie said.
“Honestly, I saw it on the news this morning and I completely forgot about it before that,” Schwartz said.
When the men were told about the extension, they shrugged.
“We’re already here. No point in leaving,” Schwartz said.
Others, though, started to leave the line when a woman announced the extension to the crowd. They walked the muddy path back to their cars that were parked parallel to the railroad tracks, some nearly a mile down Piedmont Road.
“That’s good news. That line looked long,” said Jacob Monroe, who was walking up to the Parkways Authority’s building as he heard the announcement.
Monroe said he also tried signing up online but was hit with an error message repeatedly, meaning his application was not processed.
He turned around and proceeded back to his car.
“I’ll get out here next week probably. After the holiday,” he said.
Caity Coyne is a corps member with Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. Reach Caity Coyne at firstname.lastname@example.org, 304-348-7939 or follow @CaityCoyne on Twitter.