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Published: Thursday, 10/11/2007

Voinovich hears pleas for federal aid on infrastructure projects

BY JOE VARDON
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Voinovich Voinovich
CHARLES DHARAPAK / AP Enlarge

U.S. Sen. George Voinovich (R., Ohio) wants the next president of the United States to look kindly on projects to fix the country's ports, highways, and sewers.

So he made sure to have a chat with Hillary Clinton, the Democratic senator from New York and a front-running presidential candidate.

"I said, 'Hillary, you probably might be the next president,' " Mr. Voinovich recalled yesterday in Toledo. "It would be nice if you knew, or the next president would know, what the real, true infrastructure needs of this country are."

Mr. Voinovich met with government and economic development leaders from northwest Ohio yesterday for a single purpose: to gauge which of their infrastructure projects most deserve federal funding.

But during the meeting, Mr. Voinovich offered an array of anecdotes that fell on all sides of the political aisle, including his quasiprediction for the country's next commander in chief.

The GOP senator and former Ohio governor also placed partial blame on the President for a lack of federal funding for highway projects, and accused environmentalists of causing high water and sewer bills.

Mr. Voinovich later said his story about Mrs. Clinton was meant as a joke, but he is confident Mrs. Clinton will be the Democrats' nominee for president.

As for his own party's presidential nominee, Mr. Voinovich was noncommittal.

"I haven't made up my mind yet," he told The Blade following the meeting. "We've got plenty of good horses in the race."

Mr. Voinovich, who is on the Senate's Environment and Public Works Committee, was tough on President Bush for Iraq war spending. He said with a lack of federal funds available for projects at home, the nation should focus on reducing its commitment in Iraq.

"I've been working my head off trying to get a comprehensive disengagement there," Mr. Voinovich said. "We've spent $550 billion already on that war. Think of what we could've done with that money for highways or other infrastructure projects."

But Mr. Voinovich steered back to the right by criticizing restrictions placed on businesses and government inspired by the environmental lobby.

He said restrictions placed on sewer and storm water treatment, and on the control of airborne emissions, are making it financially difficult for cities and companies to comply.

"[Agencies] like the EPA, they simply have no concern whatsoever for the effect on the people who have to pay the bills," Mr. Voinovich said.

The senator's meeting was hosted by Tony Reams, president of the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments, at TMACOG's headquarters. Also at the table were Sylvania Mayor Craig Stough; Jerry Hayes, Defiance's economic development director; David Moebius, assistant chief of staff to Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, and Mark V'Soske, president of the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Among the projects pitched to Mr. Voinovich for federal financial support were:

•Improvements to the I-75/I-475 interchange.

•A rail/truck intermodal freight terminal near the Ohio-Michigan border.

•Toledo's Marina District and construction on the Martin Luther King, Jr., Bridge.

•The U.S. 24 Fort to Port Highway project.

•Construction of a small ship repair facility in Sandusky.

Mr. Stough, who is also the president of Northwest Ohio Mayors and Managers, complained to Mr. Voinovich about the costs of mandates on storm and sewer water control for small, rural communities.

The Sylvania mayor also said it was unfair for small cities to have to pay for portions of road projects when the state picks up the tab for the same projects in unincorporated areas.

Contact Joe Vardon at: jvardon@theblade.com or 419-410-5055.



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