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Published: 10/26/2011

Kasich pledges turnpike funds to north Ohio

Governor insists no decision made on future of toll road

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — More than half of the money generated by leveraging the Ohio Turnpike would be spent in northern Ohio, Gov. John Kasich promised yesterday even as he insisted no decisions have been made on the toll road’s future.

Some of the proceeds of any long-term lease, borrowing against the toll toad, or any other venture would also be spent on bridges and roads elsewhere in Ohio, the Republican governor said as he urged engineers attending a conference to get behind the concept of leveraging the 241-mile toll road asset.

“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 would be paid to communities along the turnpike that he said haven’t gotten the kind of attention they should. “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 bridges across the state 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.

Rep. Rex Damschroder (R., Fremont) said earmarking at least half of the revenue for northern Ohio is not good enough.

“All of Ohio, except for those living along the turnpike, has free access to highways,” he said. “I want to make sure that we’re not taking a special tax on northern Ohioans to pay for transportation for the rest of the state. It’s not fair to the people who pay an extra tax to ride on the turnpike.”

He suggested that all trucks and out-of-state vehicles should continue to pay tolls while Ohio passenger vehicles could be issued E-ZPass transponders free of charge.

“The money should be restricted to those counties through which the turnpike passes,” Rep. Dennis Murray (D., Sandusky) said. “They would be most hindered by increased tolls and traffic. They are also the ones who pay, in effect, a double tax. They pay tolls and the gas tax, only a small portion of which goes to the turnpike.”

Given a choice between a long-term lease to a private entity and the state keeping control of the turnpike and borrowing against it, Mr. Murray said he’d prefer the latter.

“That does make some sense,” he said. “It would address what the governor wants to do in terms of infrastructure and we would still maintain operations.” But even under that scenario, the money must be spent in northern Ohio, Mr. Murray said.

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.

The U.S. Department of Transportation recently revoked its approval for the state to use federal funds for the study after hearing complaints from congressional Democrats. It has since reversed position and given Ohio approval contingent to slight modification in the application that the Ohio Department of Transportation says have been made.

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 yesterday beyond using the general term “billions.”

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com, or 614-221-0496.



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