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Published: 3/22/2013

Turnpike bond issue predicted to benefit area’s road projects

Proximity to toll road said to be deciding factor in funding

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Rick Hodges, executive director of the Ohio Turnpike, says plans call for widening 4.7 miles of the toll road in the Toledo area starting this spring. Rick Hodges, executive director of the Ohio Turnpike, says plans call for widening 4.7 miles of the toll road in the Toledo area starting this spring.
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Third-lane widening of I-75 between Perrysburg and Findlay could start next year as one of numerous area projects the Ohio Department of Transportation expects to finance through a proposed Ohio Turnpike bond issue.

Gordon Bowman of Pemberville addresses a question to speaker Rick Hodges, executive director of the Ohio Turnpike, during a summit at the Holiday Inn French Quarter in Perrysburg Township. Gordon Bowman of Pemberville addresses a question to speaker Rick Hodges, executive director of the Ohio Turnpike, during a summit at the Holiday Inn French Quarter in Perrysburg Township.
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Adding a third lane each way in the median south of Perrysburg to State Rt. 582 near Dunbridge, Ohio, will start “early in the spring of 2014,” Mike Gramza, administrator of planning and engineering at ODOT’s district office in Bowling Green, told the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments’ annual Transportation Summit.

That project is expected to cost $55 million. ODOT also may start widening I-75 between Phillips Avenue and I-280 next year, Mr. Gramza said, while the final phase of rebuilding the I-75/I-475 junction in central Toledo is likely to start in 2015, and reconstruction of the I-75 DiSalle Bridge over the Maumee River could begin in 2016.

The head of the Ohio Turnpike spoke to an audience of about 300 at the Holiday Inn French Quarter in Perrysburg Township. He said that even without a 75-mile distance limit for spending, most of the $1.5 billion state officials expect to raise from new turnpike debt would be subject to legal constraints on how far off the toll road such money could be spent.

The key point, turnpike Executive Director Rick Hodges said, is that the turnpike does not have taxing authority, and Ohio courts have ruled that using turnpike tolls for purposes wholly unrelated to the turnpike would constitute collecting a tax.

The 75-mile limit “is only the first litmus test,” Mr. Hodges said. After that, the renamed Ohio Turnpike Infrastructure Commission will review each project forwarded to it by the Ohio Transportation Review Advisory Council to determine how much turnpike participation can be justified, he said.

With projects like I-75 widening south of Toledo and upgrading major I-475/U.S. 23 junctions, there should be no problem demonstrating a “nexus” with the toll road, the turnpike director said. Projects farther away, such as in the Lima area, might qualify only for partial funding from turnpike bonds, because their effect on traffic that also uses the turnpike would be milder.

The transportation bill, which passed by a comfortable vote straddling both partisan and geographic lines, awaits Gov. John Kasich’s signature. State officials expect the $1.5 billion from 30-year turnpike bonds to reel in the same amount in federal matching funds for highway projects.

Mr. Hodges said Friday that about $1 billion is likely to be borrowed right away, with the remaining $500 million in turnpike bonds to be sold once ODOT exhausts the initial bond proceeds.

Some of the bond revenue will be used on the turnpike, to accelerate to 25 years a rebuilding campaign that turnpike officials previously expected to take 40 years.

Underneath several rounds of asphalt resurfacing is original concrete pavement that now is nearly 60 years old, Mr. Hodges said.

“It was never designed to last this long. The foundation is crumbling underneath,” he said.

A first section of rebuilding was completed last year between the Fremont and Bellevue interchanges, and more is in the works this year, as is the final stage of the turnpike’s widening campaign between Toledo and Youngstown. Work is to start this spring on widening 4.7 miles between I-75 near Perrysburg and the Reynolds Road interchange on the Toledo-Maumee border.

“We doubt that we’re going to go any farther west in the foreseeable future,” with turnpike widening because the traffic volume doesn’t justify it, Mr. Hodges said.

The turnpike director also said that except for the toll road’s Eastgate and Westgate plazas, it is unlikely to build any barrier-free lanes for E-ZPass electronic toll customers. And even at the two end-point plazas, that’s only something the turnpike is “looking at.”

“It would be very difficult for us to migrate to a fully electronic system” because of the cost and challenge of enforcement, Mr. Hodges said. “We’re probably not going in that direction for the foreseeable future.”

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.



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