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Published: Wednesday, 3/13/2013

Ohio Senate to consider speed limit, borrowing against tolls in transportation bill

BY JIM PROVANCE
BLADE COLUMBUS BUREAU CHIEF

COLUMBUS — A bill raising the speed limit to 70 mph on rural Ohio interstates and authorizing borrowing against the Ohio Turnpike to fund projects across the state is headed for a Senate vote today.

The Senate Transportation Committee voted 7-2 to send the two-year transportation budget to the Senate floor. But first it restored a couple of provisions allowing longer trucks on Ohio roads and worked to further ease the potential impact of toll increases on users of the turnpike across northern Ohio as a result of the state’s plan to borrow $1.5 billion against the toll road.

Sen. Randy Gardner (R., Bowling Green) amended the bill to meet Gov. John Kasich halfway in terms of legally cementing the governor’s promise that tolls on Ohioans traveling more than 30 miles on the turnpike would not increase more than the annual rate of inflation.

The governor had raised concerns that legally constricting the turnpike commission’s ability to raise revenue could cause the state to pay higher interest rates on the borrowed money. The state expects to draw matching federal and state dollars to the borrowed funds to generate a total $3 billion to jumpstart road and bridge projects that might otherwise be delayed for decades.

Mr. Gardner’s amendment does not cap toll increases, but it would allow Ohioans using E-ZPass to get an income tax credit for tolls they pay above the rate of inflation.

“There is concern that, if indeed ridership declines, it may be necessary to find additional revenues to make sure we are able to do the projects that are expected in northern Ohio — more roads, more bridges, more jobs,” Mr. Gardner said. “It might be necessary to raise tolls faster than the rate of inflation. If that happens…, I don’t want that on the backs of those in northern Ohio who are paying additional tolls.”

The committee on Monday had already written into the bill Mr. Kasich’s guarantee that 90 percent of the funds generated by the borrowing will be spent in northern Ohio, defined in the bill as anything within 75 miles of the 241-mile turnpike corridor.

It has also solidified Mr. Kasich’s promise that tolls will be frozen at current levels for 10 years for local commuters using E-ZPass and traveling less than 30 miles.

On Monday, the committee removed several provisions from the House-passed version of the transportation budget that would have allowed heavier and longer trucks on Ohio roads. The proposed easing of truck weight limits remains on the cutting room floor.

But the committee did restore a provision sought by the Ohio Trucking Association that would allow triple-trailer trucks to travel within two miles of the turnpike without having to get special permits. This is designed to allow such trucks to move back and forth between the turnpike and trucking terminals that are often not far from the toll road.

It also restored language increasing the length of certain single vehicles from 40 to 50 feet without having to get a special permit. This one is aimed at mobile cranes and certain agricultural vehicles that currently must have special permits allowing them only to travel during daylight hours.

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



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