For nearly a year we’ve had the pleasure of travelling the state to meet with thousands of Ohioans to talk about our highway system. We have asked people what they would like ODOT and the Ohio Turnpike to do to address our state’s highway budget deficit as we conducted a 10-month, in-depth study of our state's only toll road as it fits into the bigger transportation picture.
These sessions have been extremely interesting. Everywhere we went, we were told Ohio has tremendous infrastructure needs and a lack of dollars to address those needs. Every city and county we visited has critical pending projects important to their local economy and addressing congestion and safety concerns. We also understand the passionate feelings residents of northern Ohio have for the turnpike. It has served them well since 1955.
More importantly, we learned that Ohioans strongly believe our state is on its way back economically. They want us to be innovative in our thinking about complex infrastructure problems. They expect those of us who hold a public trust to work together to find solutions. They have little patience for the partisan gridlock that has unfortunately gripped our federal government in recent years. These are real problems and the people are demanding real, common-sense solutions.
Finding such a real solution to our highway funding deficit was the goal when the Ohio Turnpike study was launched earlier this year. We began with the recognition that the turnpike is a high-quality road generating about $260 million in annual revenue. This asset can and should be put to use to help ease Ohio’s highway funding dilemma. We must do so in order to keep our economy moving forward.
We had no preconceived notions. We knew the state of Ohio would keep ownership of the turnpike under any scenario. There was discussion that the administration was determined to lease the turnpike. That was only one of the options. The analysis team also looked at the possibility of doing nothing; moving the Ohio Turnpike Commission under ODOT; or keeping the turnpike commission an independent agency, but perhaps modifying its duties and relationship with ODOT. There was also much discussion about issuing bonds to raise revenue.
I encourage everyone with an interest in this issue to read the analysis. It is comprehensive and will provide an excellent foundation for continued study of this subject. Members of this administration as well as members of the Ohio General Assembly will find it to be a useful tool for continued discussion of ways to increase efficiencies in operations and save tax dollars.
The state has decided the best course of action is to work with the existing turnpike commission to develop a capital plan addressing critical transportation projects by issuing bonds backed by future toll revenues. The Ohio Turnpike will remain under the full control of the State of Ohio. Leasing the turnpike may have generated more money. However our plan allows the state to maintain total control of the road while expanding the authority of the turnpike commission to help build projects that directly benefit the turnpike and Northern Ohio. While a strong majority of the bond money will be spent in Northern Ohio, the plan will free up other funds to accelerate badly needed highway projects statewide—delivering more projects faster.
By bonding against future toll revenues we can take a bite out of Ohio’s highway budget deficit and dedicate approximately $1.5 billion for critical infrastructure projects. We can also freeze tolls for 10 years for passenger vehicles using E-Z Pass for local trips and cap other toll increases to the rate of inflation for the next decade.
When you’re in a state that makes and grows things, it is essential to have the ability to move things. This new program will provide vital transportation projects to keep Ohio’s economy moving forward. Ohioans are looking to us to put aside any differences and work together to find innovative solutions to these critical needs. Using the turnpike’s potential, we can keep Ohio’s transportation system moving and keep our state moving as well — back on track to prosperity.