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Published: Saturday, 5/8/2004

U.S. 24 Fort-to-Port job tops Ohio project list

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU

COLUMBUS - The state panel setting Ohio's highway and bridge construction priorities yesterday kept the upgrade of U.S. 24 from Waterville to the Indiana line at the top of its list, but there's no guarantee it will stay there.

The Transportation Review and Advisory Commission approved its $3.6 billion spending plan based on the assumption that the federal government will provide at least $250 million a year to Ohio's effort.

That's a big if. The current federal six-year transportation plan is running on fumes, having been extended through June while Congress and the White House feud over spending levels and pork-barrel projects in its replacement.

The Senate has passed a $318 billion, six-year plan that would provide anywhere from $213 million to $272 million a year for Ohio, depending on how quickly some elements are phased in.

The House has countered with a more conservative $284 billion plan that would provide between $120 million to $174 million a year to Ohio. The White House wants to pare total spending to $275 billion, which, under the best-case scenario, would send $272 million annually to the Buckeye State.

"If the final bill provides less than [$250 million a year], we'd be asking TRAC to revisit the list and rebalance it by delaying projects," Transportation Director Gordon Proctor said.

The Senate-passed version eventually would guarantee that Ohio would get back 95 percent of the gasoline taxes it sends to Washington. The House-passed version would maintain the current rate of return of 90.5 percent.

High-price-tag projects such as the U.S. 24 Fort-to-Port project could be among those at risk for being delayed or broken up into smaller projects if the federal budget comes up short. The project was one of several that the state virtually promised to complete when it lobbied last year for an increase in the state gasoline tax from 22 to 28 cents a gallon, phased in over three years.

The second 2-cent installment is scheduled to take effect July 1, regardless of a legislative proposal to delay it because of current record prices at the pump.

"We're trying to stay in a balanced budget within that reality," Mr. Proctor said. Any changes in the list because of lower-than-expected federal aid would not occur until December, when TRAC is set to approve its next draft. Hearings across the state will take place between August and October.

Design work on the Fort-to-Port project will continue this year with construction slated for 2006 between State Rts. 424 and 15 in Defiance County.

Construction on sections from the Indiana line to U.S. 127 in Paulding County, from U.S. 127 to State Rt. 424 in Defiance, and from Defiance to Napoleon is slated for 2007. The most expensive section, $200.7 million, from Napoleon to Waterville, would begin in 2008.

New to the list is the $35.8 million upgrade of the I-475 interchange at Salisbury Road and Dussel Drive, with the state contributing $18.4 million of the effort. Construction is set for 2006.

Contact Jim Provance at:

jprovance@theblade.com

or 614-221-9496.



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