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Published: Friday, 7/26/2013

State panel approves tentative spending plan that jump-starts highway, bridge projects


COLUMBUS — A state panel today approved a tentative spending plan that jump-starts major highway and bridge projects that had all but stalled before a plan to borrow against the Ohio Turnpike was approved.

A reconstructed I-475 / I-75 interchange in central Toledo, the long-awaited McCord Road railroad underpass in Holland, and widening and other improvements to I-75 in Lucas, Wood, and Hancock counties all rank high among northwest Ohio priorities in the near future.

The state Transportation Review Advisory Council made few minor changes to the draft list before unanimously passing it.

Among them was the addition of a $14.7 million project to relocate State Route 66 in Archbold onto Fulton County Road 24. It was added to Tier 2, a category of projects still in the early stages of development. The project was added out of concern that northwest Ohio wasn’t adequately represented in Tier 2.

Jerry Wray, director of the Ohio Department of Transportation and TRAC’s chairman, said the list answers critics who worried that northern Ohio would not get its fair share given that the $1.5 billion ultimately to be borrowed by the turnpike is backed by tolls.

“It’s not a finished process, but where we are in the process, certainly we are meeting the obligation of the legislation that passed,” he said.

That law requires that any project tackled with turnpike bond funds be within 75 miles of the toll road corridor and have some relationship with the turnpike. The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission has the final say on which projects it will fund, and those decisions will likely be made in September.

The borrowing was proposed by Gov. John Kasich.

The public may weigh in on the state’s priorities until Aug. 16. TRAC will meet again six days later to decide whether to further refine the list based on the input. A final TRAC list is expected to be considered on Sept. 26.

What will ultimately be $1.5 billion in new borrowing from the turnpike is expected to be matched by federal and local dollars to infuse a total of $3 billion in new funds into the building program. The draft plan approved today would spend a little more than $1 billion on Tier 1 projects over the next two years.

The state estimates the turnpike-funded construction could generate a total of 65,000 jobs.

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


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