The Federal Highway Administration has reinstated a $1.5 million planning grant to the Ohio Department of Transportation for a study that could recommend leasing the Ohio Turnpike to private operators.
The funds were reinstated this week after ODOT Director Jerry Wray submitted an amendment to his department's annual Statewide Planning and Research that broadened the study's proposed scope to include no particular outcome.
As revised, the study will "evaluate the different possibilities for the state to leverage the state's transportation assets to generate new revenue streams to help finance future transportation system improvements," according to an excerpt included in a letter Laura Leffler, the highway administration's division administrator, sent to Mr. Wray on Wednesday.
The highway administration had revoked the grant early this month after ODOT issued a Request for Proposals that described a services contract to solely support turnpike privatization.
"These funds will allow Ohio to thoroughly examine all options for leveraging the revenue potential of the Ohio Turnpike," ODOT spokesman Steve Faulkner said. "The study will be completed in an open and transparent process and the state will make a decision that … benefits Ohio's hard-working taxpayers. At the end of the day, we might choose a lease, we might not."
Other options the Kasich administration has floated include contracting out turnpike maintenance or merging the Ohio Turnpike Commission with ODOT.
The grant funding was rescinded after Democrats in Ohio's congressional delegation protested its issuance. Mr. Wray's submittal of the amended proposal followed a letter from 10 Ohio Republicans seeking the funds' reinstatement.
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