CLEVELAND — Borrowing against the Ohio Turnpike will advance the $176 million reconstruction of the I-475 interchange with I-75 by a dozen years, along with widening and other improvements to I-75 in Lucas, Wood, and Hancock counties.
Gov. John Kasich on Monday used perhaps the highest profile of the jump-started projects in the state, completion of the so-called Opportunity Corridor through the city of Cleveland, to get some mileage out of a revised draft list of projects before it receives tentative approval from a state panel on Thursday.
The I-475/I-75 interchange construction is expected to begin in 2015 instead of in 2027.
The later start date was scheduled under a prior Transportation Review Advisory Council funding plan that didn't include the $1.5 billion in anticipated borrowing against future turnpike tolls.
The interchange project was one of several repeatedly mentioned as benefiting from the bond issue when lawmakers were encouraged to approve it in the spring.
“I just happened to be the conductor, but the orchestra has delivered the most innovative transportation plan among any of the 50 states of America,” Mr. Kasich said in Cleveland. “They're hoping for the bailout from Washington. ... So they sit there, and they wait, and their infrastructure deteriorates.”
Mr. Kasich ran down a list of other projects, including several in northwest Ohio.
He sees dollar bills in the orange barrels that dot Ohio highways in greater numbers as the turnpike money and matching federal and local funds pump $3 billion more into the state's construction budget on top of what’s already generated by the state gas tax and federal highway funds.
Steve Faulkner, ODOT press secretary, said the decrease in the delay of projects will help the community.
“This is huge,” he said. “Think of what a 12-year delay means for anything. What it means for communities like Toledo, it means folks are going to be working, jobs are going to grow; that means jobs directly. We believe the state as a whole is going to benefit by this.”
Mr. Faulkner said decreasing the delays and performing the work now also will help because of inflation prices, which continue to drive transportation costs.
“We’ve seen double-digit inflation on some materials,” he said.
Making roadways safer is also another way that Mr. Faulkner said residents will benefit from the governor’s plan.
Springfield Township Trustee Marylin Yoder said moving up the start date of the railroad pass project will be beneficial. She said the project has been “on the drawing board for quite awhile.”
“I hope it’s going to be faster, going around here and going around there, with the school and all,” Ms. Yoder said. “It's going to be different.”
The Transportation Review Advisory Council, which sets the state’s priorities for funding major road and bridge projects, will meet Thursday to approve a draft list that will then be subject to public comment. It is expected to approve a final list on Aug. 22.
This list will mark the first that assumes funding from new borrowing against future tolls collected by the Ohio Turnpike to fund projects off the turnpike corridor.
A total of $1.5 billion is expected to be eventually borrowed, with the first $1 billion approved by the newly renamed and restructured Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission last week.
The turnpike commission also voted last week to start raising tolls at a rate of 2.7 percent a year for most users of the turnpike for the next 10 years to begin paying for the quadrupling of its debt.
Exempt from the increases are passenger-car commuters using E-ZPass or a recognized equivalent from another state and traveling less than 30 miles between exits.
Commission approval is needed for any project for which TRAC seeks funding.
The law that set the stage for turnpike money to be used for nontoll road projects requires that 90 percent of those projects be within 75 miles of the turnpike corridor, which, along I-75, would be as far south as the Lima area.
The commission also would have to consider whether the projects have some relationship to —or affect on — the turnpike and its mission.
Mr. Kasich declined to answer when asked whether the priorities released Monday should put to rest concerns that northern Ohio gets its fair share of the turnpike-related funds, given that’s primarily who pays the tolls.
“It really is amazing what you can do when you think a little differently,” he said instead. “We’re going to see a lot of projects in a short period of time. People are going to get jobs building these things.”
The projects generated by the funding are expected to create an estimated 65,000 jobs.
“The transportation projects recommended by the governor will help ensure Ohio has the infrastructure needed to move our state forward,” said Ohio Chamber of Commerce President Andy Doehrel. “We urge TRAC to support the governor’s recommendations.”
Mr. Kasich made the announcement inside Orlando Baking Co., near where I-490 now ends in Cleveland.
The $324 million Opportunity Corridor would be a new boulevard carrying I-490 the rest of the way into the heart of the city.
“[The new project] will make it more convenient for our employees,” said Sonny Orlando, president of the family-owned, 140-year-old company. “It will also help the Cleveland Clinic, UH [University Hospitals], and Case Western.”
The business also uses the turnpike for its deliveries, including to Toledo, but Mr. Orlando said he’s willing to pay higher tolls.
“If they put it to great use like this....” he said.
Staff writer Kelly McLendon contributed to this report.
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