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Published: Monday, 3/11/2013

Revised Ohio transportation budget headed for Senate vote

Bill includes increase of select speed limits to 70 mph

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — Ohio’s speed limit would increase to 70 mph on non-urban interstates under a revised transportation budget headed for a Senate vote later this week.

The Senate Transportation Committee today also wrote into the bill a guarantee that 90 percent of funds to be raised from borrowing against Ohio Turnpike tolls be spent within 75 miles of the existing toll road corridor.

The committee wrote Gov. John Kasich’s promise that tolls would be frozen for 10 years at current levels for EZ Pass-using commuters traveling less than 30 miles on the turnpike. The state would also have to prove that a proposed project is in close proximity to or will have an impact on the turnpike in order to receive funding.

The committee also removed several controversial provisions that would have increased the weight and length of trucks on Ohio roads.

The committee’s chairman, Sen. Gayle Manning (R., North Ridgeville), said the decision to remove the language easing weight and length restrictions on trucks had nothing to do with the committee’s decision to raise the speed limit for all vehicles on most interstates by 5 mph.

A separate bill had been introduced in the House to raise the speed limit, but that chamber did not choose to insert the language into the transportation budget when it passed that chamber more than a week ago.

The first thing the committee did was to merge the two bills into one after the House had separated out the turnpike proposal for additional debate.

The committee is expected to vote on the revamped transportation/turnpike bill on Tuesday with a full Senate vote expected Wednesday. The bill must get final approval from the House on the Senate changes by next week before lawmakers take a take a two-week spring break.

The transportation budget must reach Mr. Kasich’s desk by the beginning of April in order to take effect on July 1.

The increased speed limit to 70 mph would apply to interstates outside of urban areas. The speed limit on outerbelts outside of urban areas would be 65 mph while the maximum on congested highways would be 55 mph.

The language stresses that it is not the bill’s intention to lower any existing speed limits.

“We’ve been having that conversation,” Ms. Manning said of the decision to raise the speed limit now. “The bill had been offered. We talked to police about the safety issues…As long as we did the 55 (mph) where it’s very congested, like on I-71 when you’re driving down near 70, it was just fine with them. They didn’t see it as being a problem with safety.”

The House had refused to write Mr. Kasich’s promises concerning expenditure of turnpike funds in northern Ohio into the bill, citing concerns that restrictions on the turnpike’s ability to raise tolls would affect interest rates the state would have to pay.

Ms. Manning said the committee worked closely with Mr. Kasich’s office as it developed the language. Mr. Kasich had generally described northern Ohio has anything north of Route 30.

“Route 30 is like 72.3 (miles) or something like that…,” Ms. Manning said. “It was easier to say 75 (miles from the turnpike).”

The bill as passed by the House would also have allowed overweight and oversized vehicles to travel within two miles of the Ohio Turnpike without having to acquire a special permit, would have increased the weight limit for trucks on non-freeways from 80,000 pounds to 90,000, and would have increased the maximum length for a single vehicle from 40 feet to 50 feet.

The bill now before the Senate committee would remove all of that.



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