Kasich signs $1.5B repair, 70 mph bill


WARRENSVILLE HEIGHTS, Ohio — Gov. John Kasich on Monday signed a bill that boosts the speed limit on some Ohio interstates, while also increasing the speed that construction will occur on Ohio's highways and bridges.

Under the two-year transportation/public safety budget that takes effect July 1, the speed limit will rise to 70 mph on rural interstates and the state will be allowed to borrow $1.5 billion against Ohio Turnpike tolls to pay for a backlog of highway and bridge projects across the state.

Adding matching federal and local funds is expected to bring the pool of money for highway repairs to $3 billion.

“Obviously, a great day for the state,” Mr. Kasich said.

The signing took place at Tendon Manufacturing Inc. in the Cleveland suburb with nearly two dozen state lawmakers looking on, including Reps. Matt Szollosi (D., Oregon) and Barbara Sears (R., Monclova Township), as well as some union representatives.

“We create jobs; we utilize the turnpike; we're going to repair the turnpike, and put it in even better shape than it is today. And we have a big advantage: we've been able to spare folks the issue of raising those gas taxes,” the Republican governor said. “Some of those projects that could have been delayed for 20 years are going to get moved up.”

The administration has projected 65,000 jobs will be created by the expansion of highway repair projects.

The law stipulates that 90 percent of the money raised by the borrowing be spent on projects within 75 miles of the turnpike.

Northern Ohio lawmakers who supported the law said they are confident the northern part of the state will be protected by the Transportation Review Advisory Council, which is supposed to ensure that the state's other sources of infrastructure spending are awarded based on a nonpartisan formula.

Mr. Szollosi, one of a handful of northwest Ohio Democrats who voted for the bill, said he did so because of the amount of construction that will be enabled by the law and because it protects prevailing wage rules, collective bargaining, and 1,000 turnpike jobs.

The Ohio Department of Transportation has indicated $600 million would have been spent on major new highway construction in northern Ohio over the next 20 years if nothing had been done, while the borrowing will generate $1.8 billion over six years for such projects.

“The impact this is going to have on economic development and job creation is hard to overstate,” Mr. Szollosi said.

Dennis Duffey, executive secretary of the Ohio State Building and Construction Trades Council, whose members will benefit from the work, said the bill “has proven the governor is a man of his word.”

“While my organization didn't support him in his candidacy, I can tell you that we have been pleasantly surprised by his hard work and his dedication to all of Ohio,” Mr. Duffey said.

Support and opposition for the turnpike borrowing measure crossed party and geographic lines in the General Assembly.

Some Republicans broke with their party to oppose the bill, particularly some in northern Ohio who worried the region would be double-taxed, paying both tolls and gas taxes, to rebuild highways in other parts of the state.

Rep. Tim Brown (R., Bowling Green) was among the few Republicans who opposed the bill.

“It’s 30 years of debt largely paid by northern Ohio businesses and citizens,” he said. “I’m a big supporter of the governor’s focus on fixing the state’s infrastructure. It’s vitally important that we get back to doing that. My concern is about how we’re going about doing that.”

Mr. Brown said he would have supported the transportation budget absent the turnpike portion. Having said that, he’s eager to see state funds go toward the widening of I-75 from Perrysburg to Findlay to accommodate added truck traffic.

Rep. Michael Ashford (D., Toledo) said he supported the bill because of the jobs that will be generated.

“If the governor doesn’t deliver 90 percent of the money back into this area, he has to be responsible for his actions. I can’t hold him accountable for something he hasn’t done yet,” Mr. Ashford said.

Effective July 1, the law sets new maximum speed limits at 70 mph on nonurban interstates, 65 mph on urban outer beltways and congested highways, and 60 mph on some nonurban, two-lane highways as determined by the Ohio Department of Transportation.

ODOT spokesman Steve Faulkner said the agency hasn't decided which parts of the state's interstate freeways will get the higher speed limit.

State officials earlier said the law applies only to highways that are part of the interstate system, like I-75, and not other freeways built to similar standards, like sections of U.S. 23 and U.S. 24 in northwest Ohio.

It specifically excludes urban beltways, including I-475 and I-280 in metro Toledo, which will retain their current speed limits.

The law freezes tolls at current levels for a decade for E-ZPass users traveling less than 30 miles between turnpike exits.

A newly named and expanded Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission has begun the process of borrowing the $1.5 billion on top of the roughly $500 million debt it now carries.

Among the nonturnpike projects expected to get a boost in northwest Ohio are reconstruction of the interchange of I-475 and I-75 and upgrades to the I-475 junction with U.S. 23 in Sylvania Township and the nearby Central Avenue interchange.

Staff writers Jim Provance and David Patch contributed to this report.

Contact Tom Troy at: tomtroy@theblade.com, or 419-724-6058.