COLUMBUS — Suddenly flush with cash thanks to borrowing against the Ohio Turnpike, a state panel on Thursday approved a tentative spending plan that jump-starts major highway and bridge projects that had all but stalled.
A reconstructed I-475/I-75 interchange in central Toledo, the long-awaited McCord Road railroad underpass in Springfield Township, 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 Rt. 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 the council’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,” Mr. Wray 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. The advisory council will meet again six days later to decide whether to refine the list further based on the input. A final list is expected to be considered on Sept. 26.
ODOT spokesman Steve Faulkner stressed that it should not be assumed that every project within 75 miles of the turnpike will be submitted to the commission for funding. The amount of turnpike funds sought in project applications submitted to the transportation advisory council exceeded the money available.
Brian Davis, Williams County commissioner and northwest Ohio’s advisory council member, said he believes the list treats northwest Ohio well.
“I’m satisfied with the outcome,” Mr. Davis said. “As an example, Napoleon has an opportunity to come back with additional funding to help [a bridge project] move forward and bring it into Tier 2 status. Just the fact that the members are allowing that to take place, I am happy.”
The state estimates the turnpike-funded construction could generate a total of 65,000 jobs.
Top priority projects in northwest Ohio include:
● $176 million to complete the rebuild of I-475’s interchange with I-75 in central Toledo, with major work to start in 2015.
● $51 million for an added third lane and other improvements to I-75 between Toledo’s Phillips Avenue and I-280. Construction is set for 2015, pending environmental clearances.
● $59 million upgrade of the I-475 interchange with Central Avenue (U.S. 20) in Sylvania Township pending environmental clearances. Major construction is expected in 2015.
● $197 million for a third lane and widening on I-75 in Wood County, tackled in four phases, with all four to start next year.
● $11.1 million reconstruction of the U.S. 224 bridge and interchange with I-75 at Findlay starting next year.
● $31.7 million in widening and other improvements to U.S. 250 from U.S. 6 in downtown Sandusky to Bogart Road just south of State Route 2. All but $1 million would be funded by the state with construction slated for 2015.
● A new $29.3 million underpass carrying McCord Road under expanded Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks in Springfield Township. Already advanced on the existing spending plan, the project is set to begin next year, with $12.2 million coming from the state.
With the exception of the Sandusky and McCord Road projects, the state is picking up the full tab for these projects. Most were on the state’s to-do list but might otherwise have waited decades to see funding for construction if the state continued to rely solely on stagnant gas tax revenue and federal highway funds.
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