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COLUMBUS — Gov. John Kasich said Tuesday that no decision has been made as to what his administration will do with the Ohio Turnpike, but, whatever it is, he said a majority of the money generated will be spent in northern Ohio.
But proceeds will also be spent on bridges and roads elsewhere in Ohio as the governor urged engineers attending a conference to get behind the concept of leveraging the 241-mile toll road to generate cash.
“We’ll make a commitment that at least half of the proceeds from a lease or a bond [would be spent] on roads that are north of Route 30,” Mr. Kasich said. “We think that’s a fair thing. We can’t put it all up there because we have infrastructure needs all across the state. We can give more than half to the people who live up there.”
He also said special attention will be paid to communities along the turnpike that he said haven’t gotten the kind of support that they should have received because turnpike policies are largely confined to the toll road itself.
“It’s time to be good neighbors and fix these problems that have been neglected or ignored for too many years…,” he said. “You want a sound wall? We’re interested. You want that overpass fixed? We’re interested.”
A portion of the funds would be dedicated for local bridges so that communities would not have to rely on federal dollars with strings attached as well as to create a dedicated funding stream for mass transit that would replace money that now comes from the state’s general budget.
The state has narrowed its choices of potential consultants who would engage in a $1.5 million study of the concept of leveraging the turnpike. Assuming that the study recommends a long-term lease to a private operator, the consultant ultimately chosen would also lead the process of finding someone to pay what the study determines the toll road is worth.
“We don’t know what we’re going to do yet,” Mr. Kasich told the Ohio Transportation Engineering Conference. “We’re not sure if we’re going to lease it. We’re not sure if we’re not going to maintain control of it and bond against that revenue. We’re not sure yet.
“Just like we did with the prisons, If this doesn’t work for the people of this state, we’re not going to do it. But if it works for the people of the state, and all of a sudden we can start having a lot of jobs created and infrastructure improved, safety increased, people going to work…Are you kidding me? We’re not going to do it?”
Polls have suggested that Ohioans haven’t warmed to the idea of leasing the toll road across northern Ohio.
“I understand that people are very attached to this thing…,” Mr. Kasich said.
In the past, Mr. Kasich had talked about a long-term lease that could generate about $3 billion, about $600 million of which would be needed to pay off outstanding debt on the road. He declined to put a number on it Tuesday beyond using the generic term “billions."
“There are politicians who make a career out of fighting any change on the turnpike,” he said. “They can’t wait for the fight to get their name in the paper. We need your help on this.”