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Published: Tuesday, 8/12/2003

U.S. 24 finally a priority

GOVERNOR Taft's $5 billion plan for highway construction in northwest Ohio over the next decade puts U.S. 24, between the Indiana border and Maumee, at the head of the state's priorities for the first time. Though the region is no doubt years away from a completed project, it finally has official standing and support in Columbus.

For members of the Fort to Port Improvement Organization, which has struggled for a decade to transform this road into an expressway, as well as those who have deplored its safety deficiencies, it's about time.

Plans call for a new interchange where State Rt. 281 connects with U.S. 24; an extension of a four-lane section from State Rt. 66 in Defiance to the four-lane bypass in Napoleon; a new four-lane, divided highway from the Indiana border to State Rt. 424 on the west side of Defiance, and a new four-lane divided highway from State Rt. 109, on the east side of Napoleon, to I-475 in Lucas County.

The governor is calling his ambitious road investment plan the state's largest since it built its interstates in the 1960s and 1970s. It includes not only a new U.S. 24, but also a widening of sections of I-75 and I-475 and of State Rt. 53 between the Ohio Turnpike and Port Clinton.

Where will the money come from? Half will be produced by a three-year, six-cent increase in the state's motor fuels tax. The two-cent hike imposed in July is the first installment in that calculation.

The remainder will depend on the beneficence of Congress. Ohio is asking for $150 million above its past allocations, to be underwritten by a new computation of the tax on ethanol so it no longer shortchanges this state, and a reordering of the return Ohio gets from highway money it sends to Washington.

Because Ohio is a donor state to federal highway funds - one that gets back less than it gives - officials want Congress to assure it a 95 percent return. If the Ohio delegation in Washington becomes a bit more aggressive, it could happen.

The 19 high-cost proposals in the northwest Ohio package, U.S. 24 among them, will require $345 million to complete within five to 10 years, the state estimates.

On the upgrade list for safety concerns are the I-75/I-475 interchange in Toledo, where there have been 400 accidents in three years, and a congested, eight-mile segment of U.S. 20 in Lucas County, where 600 accidents have occurred over the same period.

If one considers the state's huge financial commitment to the new Maumee River bridge on I-280, and now its plans to make the U.S. 24 reconstruction a priority, plus the jobs that attach to both, it is clear that this region is getting a healthy share of state investment. It was not always so.

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