Turnpike commission announces commitment to help finance northwest Ohio construction projects


BEREA, Ohio — Spending construction cash for the first time well off its toll-road corridor, the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission today committed to picking up most of the tab for a major overhaul of I-75 in northwest Ohio and a revamped I-75/ I-475 interchange in central Toledo.

But the commission unanimously rejected a request from the Ohio Department of Transportation to pay for part of the long-planned new $29.3 million underpass carrying McCord Road under expanded Norfolk Southern Railroad tracks at Holland, where a student from nearby Springfield High School was killed and another lost his leg in 2009 when they tried to beat an Amtrak train..

ODOT representatives said the project is not likely to be delayed because the state requested just $2.7 million of the project cost.

They said the state's Transportation Review Advisory Council will likely identify more traditional highway funds to fill the gap.

The council meets on Sept. 26 to finalize its latest major new construction list for projects across the state.

That list is the first to include an expected $1.5 billion in borrowing guaranteed by turnpike tolls.

It is expected to draw a matching amount in federal and local funds to create a $3 billion building program.

The turnpike commission today agreed to partially fund 10 of the 12 projects ODOT had submitted for its consideration.

It has issued $1 billion so far in bonds, $70 million to accelerate the turnpike's existing deck replacement efforts.

That left $930 million to put into other projects outside the east-to-west toll road corridor.

The total for the 10 projects slightly exceeded $1 billion. The advisory council is expected to adjust some projects so they are within the remaining $930 million before the turnpike commission votes next week to enter into formal agreements with ODOT.

Lawmakers earlier this year authorized the borrowing, marking the first time that toll-backed funds would be spent beyond a mile of the turnpike corridor.

The legislature required that approved projects must be located within 75 miles of the toll road and must have some “nexus” with the turnpike in terms of impact, such as increasing ridership, easing movement of goods and services, and improving access to populated areas.

“That certainly is a rather broad definition...,” Commissioner Joseph A. Balog said. “Under that definition, that gives us extremely flexible latitude.”

As flexible as that definition may be, the commission found it could not make the case for two projects — the McCord Road railroad underpass and a mass transit project in Stark County.

The commission unanimously agreed it is difficult to justify turnpike funds for the McCord Road project, even though the work is necessary to improve safety.

“I know you did everything you could to try to make this work for this...,” Commission Chairman Jerry H. Hruby told ODOT. “There just wasn't a way.”

Commission members pointed to the two rejections as showing the commission would carefully review projects to ensure the case for “nexus” is made.

In northwest Ohio, the commission committed:

--$163 million toward the $176 million complete rebuild of I-475's interchange with I-75 in central Toledo with major work set to begin in 2015.

--$204.1 million, most of the total tab, in widening, interchange, and other improvements to I-75 in Wood and Hancock counties.

--$13.5 million toward $31.7 million in widening and other improvements to U.S. 250 from U.S. 6 in downtown Sandusky to Bogart Road, providing major access from the turnpike to Cedar Point and Lake Erie islands.

--$45 million toward $51 million in widening and other improvements to I-75 to I-75 between Toledo's Phillips Avenue and I-280. Because it's slated to begin at a later date of 2015, that was one project cited as an example of one that might see the turnpike's involvement trimmed to get under the $903 million target. ODOT, however, said it still expects to find more traditional highway funds, usually from gas tax revenue and federal funds, to make it happen on time.

--$44 million toward a $59 million upgrade of the I-475 interchange with Central Avenue (U.S. 20) in Sylvania Township.