Rail safety a factor in state transportation budget

Larry Limpf

News Editor

State legislators praised passage of Ohio’s $13.5 billion transportation budget, saying it represents a major investment in the state’s infrastructure as well as safeguards in rail safety in the wake of the derailment in East Palestine, Ohio.
Gov. Mike DeWine signed the budget into effect with no vetoes.
Senator Theresa Gavarone, R- Bowling Green, said the budget includes key changes for improving rail safety, including:
-Wayside detectors to be installed no more than 10 to 15 miles apart.
-The Ohio Department of Transportation and Public Utilities Commission of Ohio are required to oversee the installation.
- Implementing a review of best practices and procedures for hot bearing detectors, acoustic bearing detectors and camera installation to monitor train travel.
Following the derailment, the state senate also launched a select committee to review policies as more is learned during the investigation and clean-up, Sen. Gavarone said.
The transportation budget is funded by the state’s motor fuel tax.
“These are the tax dollars Ohioans see every spring with the blooming of orange barrels on our highways,” Sen. Gavarone said. “After visiting East Palestine earlier…, it was important to me that we worked to include substantial changes to railroad safety in our state.”
The budget also includes changes for the first time in about two decades to what are called force accounts, giving more flexibility to local jurisdictions on road projects to manage costs and bid out projects.
The Ohio Township Association pressed for changes in force accounts while the budget bill was still before the Senate Transportation Committee.
“As you know, the term force account refers to the situation in which a public official is statutorily authorized to act as a contractor on a project and the public body does the work itself, employing its own labor and purchasing its own materials,” Heidi Fought, executive director of the township association, told the committee. “The limits on force account work were last increased in 2003. The current township thresholds are $45,000 per project for maintenance and repair and $15,000 per mile for road construction and reconstruction. These limits do not reflect the cost of doing business in today’s economy.”
The new budget increases the monetary threshold for force accounts by 133 percent and the limits can increase annually based on ODOT’s construction cost index.
The final budget doesn’t include a rural highway fund allocation of about $1 billion that was added to the House of Representative’s version but didn’t make it through the Senate version.
Rep. Haraz Ghanbari, (R- Perrysburg), also praised the budget for the impact it will have on the local economy.
“We’ll be seeing more jobs and improved roadways for residents and businesses alike throughout Wood County and the entire state,” he said.
The budget funds the Strategic Transportation and Development Analysis to study links between Columbus and Sandusky and Columbus and Toledo.
It also reduces the registration fee for a plug-in hybrid vehicle from $200 to $150 effective January 1, 2024.


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