Gov. John Kasich’s proposal to not sell or lease the Ohio Turnpike but instead issue bonds backed by turnpike toll revenue to fund road projects has found support among some local officials.
Melanie Bowen, who chairs the Lake Township Board of Trustees, said Thursday that although she hadn’t heard details of the proposal it sounded “very creative.”
“I think he heard us,” she said, referring to resolutions the trustees and other local elected officials passed that expressed their opposition to the sale or lease of the turnpike.
Bowen said she and fellow trustees Ron Sims and Richard Welling were concerned a lease or sale of the turnpike might have resulted in a deterioration of the toll road which, in turn, would have a negative impact on the businesses that rely on turnpike traffic.
She said the turnpike exit in the township is one of the heaviest travelled in the state.
Welling said the trustees were also concerned a privately-operated turnpike would have resulted in higher tolls and that would have led to more truck traffic on township roads.
The Ohio Department of Transportation and Office of Budget and Management last year retained KPMG, LLP to conduct an analysis of the turnpike’s operations, including what options are feasible for the future.
In his announcement to pursue a bond program, Gov. Kasich said the turnpike generates about $270 million in annual toll revenue, calling that amount “far beyond” what is needed for its operations.
That revenue stream would be utilized to leverage $1.5 billion for road projects. That amount could be matched by another $1.5 billion in local and federal funding, he said.
In conjunction with the transportation department, the turnpike commission would assume responsibility for other transportation projects and be renamed the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission.
About 90 percent of the $1.5 billion in new bond proceeds would be allocated for projects in northern Ohio, which would allow ODOT to spend the state’s gas tax and federal funds on highways in other parts of the state, the governor said.
He was in Toledo Thursday morning to announce the plan.
In January of this year, ODOT announced a $1.6 billion budget deficit, pointing to a drop in gasoline taxes as the primary reason for the shortfall.
As a result of the revenue loss, the department said it was delaying some of its planned major construction projects.
The analysis recommends tolls for local passenger trips paid with the EZ Pass be frozen at current levels for 10 years and capping tolls for longer passenger trips and all truck trips at the rate of inflation if the growth in the traffic volume continues at past levels.
Funding for some projects will continue to be based on the recommendations of the Transportation Review Advisory Council, a nine-member panel headed by the director of ODOT that decides projects costing more than $12 million.
TRAC projects are funded by state and federal gas tax revenues.
Gov. Kasich said the plan should result in no layoffs of turnpike employees and create thousands of construction jobs.
Wood County Commissioner Tim Brown, who was elected last month to the Ohio House of Representatives, had been vocal in his opposition to privatizing the turnpike.
“The voice of our citizens has been heard and taken into account and I hope that will continue throughout the process,” he said last week. ” Of course this proposal must make its way through the legislative process and I look forward to evaluating the legislation once it is introduced.
Maintaining and improving Ohio's roads and bridges is a primary responsibility of the state. Such projects can impact public safety and the economy and we have an obligation to ensure that our infrastructure is properly funded and maintained.”
Fulton County Recorder and turnpike commission member Sandy Barber said she supports the proposal as did Portage County Auditor Janet Esposito.