Count Valdon Myers among truck drivers who will be using the Ohio Turnpike as little as possible after toll rates go up Monday morning - but then again, he doesn't drive the toll road very much as it is.
"I already don't like the prices. My company will pay for [the tolls], but nine times out of 10 I'll drive the back roads anyway, unless I have a really tight schedule," said the Tecumseh resident, who drives for National Freight, during a break Thursday at the TA Travel Center in Lake Township.
Mr. Myers predicted an exodus of trucks from the turnpike when the commercial fares go up by about 8 percent on New Year's Day: "It's all over the CB radio. They're already saying they're going to go off, and use the side roads."
But other drivers at the truck stop that afternoon said that while they don't like it, the toll increase won't be enough to undercut the turnpike's speed advantage over parallel highways like State Rt. 2 and U.S. 20.
"That toll road's my main access. I run on a schedule, and the turnpike is the way to most of my customers," said Clyde Cooper, of Belle Vernon, Pa., who hauls heating and air conditioning components from a western Pennsylvania factory to buyers throughout the Midwest. "It's quicker to run the toll road than to take the back roads."
For a Class 8 truck - a typical loaded tractor-trailer weighing between 65,001 and 80,000 pounds - the per-mile toll will rise from 12.9 to 13.9 cents, or 7.8 percent. The fare for such a truck traveling the turnpike's full 241 miles from Indiana to Pennsylvania will rise from $31 to $33.50.
"They kind of forgot how much the price of fuel has gone up," said Bryce Van Theemsche, a Manchester, Iowa, trucker whose regular run hauling meat to New York sends him across the turnpike several times per week. "I'll still have to run the danged toll road to deliver my loads. It's kind of ridiculous, but I don't have a choice."
Truck fares will still be less than they were at the end of 2004, before the Ohio Turnpike Commission lowered commercial-vehicle tolls by an average of 25 percent as part of a campaign to lure big rigs back to the toll road from parallel routes. As part of that same campaign, the truck speed limit was raised to 65 mph, making the turnpike the only Ohio road with a top truck speed above 55.
Turnpike officials justify the pending rate increase on the grounds that Ohio Department of Transportation payments to offset the toll reduction have expired, and the new rates will allow the turnpike to complete several ongoing capital projects.
The projects include widening the turnpike from four lanes to six between Youngstown and Toledo and rebuilding 14 service plazas. Of the widening, only sections between the Cuyahoga River and I-480 in Streetsboro and between I-280 in Lake Township and Reynolds Road in Toledo remain to be built, while 10 of the 14 service plazas have been rebuilt.
On a percentage basis, the toll hike will hit passenger-car drivers harder than truckers. The per-mile rate for vehicles weighing 7,000 pounds or less will rise from 3.7 cents to 4.2 cents, or 13.5 percent. Car tolls last rose eight years ago.
April Cochran, marketing and operations manager for AAA Northwest Ohio, said that while her organization has no opinion about the fare increase, "some of our members have indicated that for short-distance trips, they'll take back roads more often" to avoid the tolls.
"They say they're likely to stay on the turnpike for longer trips, because of the quality of the road and the rest stops," she said.
"As long as they keep it in good repair and clear in the wintertime, I don't have a problem" with the passenger-vehicle toll increase, said Dale Preston, a self-employed businessman from Norwalk, Ohio.
Because new fares will be rounded to the nearest quarter instead of the nearest nickel, the percentage fare increase for specific pairs of interchanges will vary, and the fares for a few close-together interchanges will stay the same or even go down. The cross-state car toll will be $10.25, up from $8.95.
For those traveling the turnpike tomorrow night, the fare will be based on their entry time, Gary Suhadolnik, the turnpike's executive director, said.
The dual ticket dispensers at each of the turnpike's 31 entrances will have the old tickets loaded in one dispenser and the new ones loaded in the other in time for the change. At midnight, a supervisor will flip a switch and the dispensers will begin issuing the new tickets.
At two unspecified "lightly used" entrances, motorists will get toll tickets with no fares printed on them for a few days because the turnpike's ticket-printing contractor did not deliver the new tickets on time, but the blank tickets' magnetic stripes will ensure the correct fares are charged at exits, Mr. Suhadolnik said.
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