COLUMBUS — Starting on July 1, drivers can legally inch their speedometers up to 70 mph on Ohio’s rural interstates under a bill expected to reach Gov. John Kasich’s desk by the end of the week.
The Ohio Senate on Wednesday rubber-stamped a compromise version of a two-year transportation budget that also authorizes the governor to borrow $1.5 billion against the Ohio Turnpike to help fund road and bridge construction across the state.
The House is expected to do the same today. The governor still has the power to exercise his line-item veto power to strike any language in a budget bill that he does not like.
“This will be the law of the land,” said Steve Faulkner, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation. “On July 1, people will be permitted to drive 70 mph on nonurban sections of interstates in Ohio. A number of states already do this, so Ohio joins the ranks.”
He said he feels confident that the transportation agency will be “mostly ready” by then with new signage designating which sections of highway will be posted at 70 mph.
The bill calls for urban outer beltways and congested sections of highways to have a limit of 65 mph with 55 mph remaining the maximum on other highways as determined by ODOT. The bill also allows ODOT to set a limit of 60 mph on certain two-lane highways.
The limit on the Ohio Turnpike is 70 mph.
The Senate voted 27-6 to accept the bipartisan compromise version of House Bill 51, with all six negative votes coming from Democrats. Four Democrats joined Republicans in support. All senators from northwest Ohio voted “yes.”
“This will create tens of thousands of good paying jobs throughout the whole state of Ohio,” Sen. Gayle Manning (R., North Ridgeville) said.
The bill partly cements Mr. Kasich’s assurances to northern Ohioans that they won’t find themselves paying ever-increasing tolls to pay back borrowed money funding projects far from the 241-mile turnpike corridor. The $1.5 billion borrowed against future tolls is expected to be matched by federal and state dollars to make $3 billion available for transportation projects that otherwise might have been delayed for decades.
Among those projects that could get a jump start is the rebuild of the interchange of I-75 and I-475 in central Toledo.
● Requires that 90 percent of the borrowed funds be spent within 75 miles of the turnpike corridor and that a revamped turnpike commission agrees that the proposed project would have some relationship to or impact on the toll road.
● Freezes tolls for a decade for local commuters using E-ZPass and traveling less than 30 miles between exits. There are exceptions to the rule, including the necessity to raise tolls to meet bond obligations.
● Makes no reference to Mr. Kasich’s vow that toll increases for all other drivers would be capped at the rate of inflation.