The Ohio Turnpike Commission is looking for federal or state help to fund a $250,000 study to figure out how to bring back more big trucks to Ohio's toll road. But why waste a dime studying a problem with an obvious cause and an even more obvious solution?
As usual, turnpike officials are looking for answers in all the wrong places. Commercial truck traffic on the Ohio Turnpike began dropping after the commission approved an 82 percent toll increase in 1995. Last year trucks accounted for 56.5 percent of toll revenue on the turnpike, down from 62 percent in 1994.
In a trend that surprises no one - except maybe the turnpike commission - truck traffic has been climbing on secondary toll-free roads running parallel to the turnpike. That's hardly a shock when toll costs for big rigs to cross the state are up to $42.45.
Citing a 1998 state trucking study, a turnpike consultant said as much as 60 percent of cross-state trucking in northern Ohio bypasses the turnpike.
The resulting crush of tractor-trailers parading through small northern Ohio towns has made life miserable - not to mention unsafe - for many surrounding residents and business owners.
Poor Bellevue along U.S. 20 has an average of more than 600 trucks rumbling though town - every hour. Some local businesses have closed and others are losing customers because of the dense traffic.
As U.S. 20 winds through Lucas County and becomes Central Avenue it also becomes the preferred truck route for more than 3,100 tractor-trailers every day. Truck traffic shot up 50 percent between 1997 and 2000 in Sylvania Township alone.
The number of overweight rigs tearing up area roads is anybody's guess. Besides avoiding turnpike tolls, truckers also like to avoid weigh-in scales.
Concern over these tactics to save money were, of course, raised before the commission pushed through toll increases to pay for an extra lane in each direction and build new toll plazas. But the turnpike phased in the higher tolls anyway.
The third lane has indeed eased driving conditions on the turnpike, and the new plazas are substantial improvements on the old.
But as regional complaints increasingly reflect the frustration of people to the heavy volume of truck traffic through their communities, turnpike officials face a quandary: How can they bring trucks back to the toll road and off the secondary routes?
They want to study options ranging from greater enforcement of truck speeds and weight on parallel freeways to, yes, actually lowering tolls on the turnpike.
Turnpike commissioners could be on to something big - like an increase in paying customers - with a good faith, across-the-board toll discount. Call it a business incentive.