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Tuesday, September 30, 2014
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Published: Tuesday, 5/14/2013 - Updated: 1 year ago

Residents rail against toll hikes on turnpike

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The promise that Marvin Thorp says Ohio Turnpike planners made to his grandfather as they carved a right-of-way through the grandfather’s farm for the toll road 60 years ago is one the Fayette, Ohio, resident won’t soon forget.

“It was told to him that all his grandkids would ride on that road for free, after it was paid off,” Mr. Thorp testified Monday afternoon during an Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission hearing about a proposed 10-year schedule of annual rate increases on the toll road.

Instead, Mr. Thorp said, northern Ohioans still pay to drive the Turnpike and must cope with the heavy truck traffic that avoids tolls by driving secondary routes like U.S. 20, which runs a block from his house.

Mr. Thorp was one of three citizens to speak during the hour-long hearing at the Maumee Municipal Building. All three declared the toll hikes to be unfair in one way or another.

The proposed increases — 2.7 percent on Jan. 1 for each of the next 10 years — are calculated to match the region’s long-term inflation rate, as required by the state transportation spending law recently passed by the Ohio General Assembly and signed by Gov. John Kasich.

Under that same law, the Turnpike will issue $1.5 billion in bonds to pay for highway improvements on roads that have a “nexus” with the toll road — a plan advanced by the governor to “leverage” the Turnpike’s value as a state asset, but which detractors said will burden northern Ohio with paying an unfair share of Ohio’s highway construction bill.

The plan will improve the roads across Ohio, “and northern Ohio’s going to pay for it,” John Boellner of Maumee said during the hearing. “I can be in Cincinnati in three hours, just like I can be in Pennsylvania in three hours, and the only difference is I don’t have to pay to go to Cincinnati.”

Mr. Thorp said Ohio could make good on its promise to his grandfather by coding E-ZPass electronic-toll transponders issued to state residents to allow free travel on the toll road.

Pemberville resident Paul Brueggemeier, meanwhile, said the Turnpike’s lower rates for E-ZPass customers — a discount that a 10-year rate freeze for trips of 30 miles or less using the system will enhance — is unfair to motorists who pay cash.

“I don’t feel this is an equitable distribution of the increase,” Mr. Brueggemeier said.

Rick Hodges, the Turnpike’s executive director, said the E-ZPass discount is a deliberate effort by state officials to encourage drivers to pay tolls electronically instead of with cash or credit cards.

Freezing the E-ZPass rate for short trips, he said, also is the best Ohio can do to offer a break to state residents who will benefit most from that freeze.

Allowing Ohioans to drive the Turnpike for free, Mr. Hodges said, would violate the Interstate Commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution, which forbids states from discriminating against other states’ travelers. Because the short-trip rates are available to anyone, he said, that is not discriminatory just because Ohioans would be the main users.

Turnpike officials noted during the hearing that while the official toll rate will increase annually under the proposal, fares between particular interchanges will only go up every few years, because toll rates are rounded to the nearest quarter dollar.

For a trip from the I-280 interchange in Lake Township to State Rt. 4 near Sandusky, the current $1.75 E-ZPass fare for a passenger car would rise to $2 in 2015, then to $2.25 in 2020.

Overall, the per-mile rate for passenger cars and light trucks would rise from 4.664 cents per mile now to $6.088 cents in 2023 for electronically paid tolls, and from 6.841 cents per mile to 8.929 cents per mile for tolls paid with cash or credit.

The hearing was the second of three the commission is holding regarding the toll plan. No one testified last week in Boardman, Ohio, and the final hearing is scheduled for 11 a.m. Monday at Turnpike headquarters in Berea.

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



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