Circuit Judge Irene Berger
CHARLESTON -- A Kanawha Circuit Judge has granted a temporary injuction forcing the West Virginia Turnpike to roll back its tolls immediately.
Judge Irene Berger ruled on Feb. 13 that the public was not given enough notice when the hikes were proposed.
A dozen companies and one person who regularly use the Charleston-to-Princeton toll road sought the injunction in a lawsuit filed Jan. 6 in Kanawha Circuit Court.
Berger said the state Parkways, Economic Development and Tourism Authority -- which governs the Turnpike -- had violated state law by not indicating the purpose of the Dec. 14 meeting where the tolls were raised.
The new rates, which took effect Jan. 1, increased prices from $1.25 to $2 for passenger cars and from $4.25 to $7 for five-axle commercial trucks.
Turnpike officials were working Tuesday to roll the toll rates back to their former levels.
Berger blamed the lack of notice on the meeting notice the authority filed prior to the meeting.
"No member of the public could have reasonably known the purpose of the meeting from a review of the notice filed in the State Register,'' the judge wrote in a letter to lawyers on both sides of the case.
Berger could take further action on the matter, and the authority could take the case to the state Supreme Court.
Lawyers for the authority had argued that the injunction would cause it to lose $2.4 million a month in revenue it had included in its new budget. They also said the injunction would lower its bond rating and, as a result, cost the state millions of dollars.
In addition to the suit, public outcry about the rate hikes triggered several pending bills in the state Legislature. A Senate bill would rescind the increases. One in the House would allow rate changes only after public hearings in each of the four counties (Kanawha, Fayette, Raleigh and Mercer) the Turnpike runs through.
The authority raised tolls to fund a maintenance and capital improvements program. It 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.
The planned toll increase was the first on the road in 25 years.
Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 06-C-21