BEREA, Ohio — The Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission said on Monday that it was too much of a stretch to claim that a long-planned railroad underpass on McCord Road in Holland has a “nexus” to the toll road as it refused to pick up part of the tab for its construction.
The project, however, is likely to move forward, with the Ohio Department of Transportation expected to identify more traditional sources of highway funding to fill the gap.
Spending construction cash for the first time well off its toll road corridor, the commission did commit to picking up most of the costs for a major overhaul of I-75 in northwest Ohio and a revamped I-75/I-475 interchange in central Toledo.
ODOT had asked the commission to pay $2.7 million toward the total $29.3 million price tag to carry McCord Road under expanded Norfolk Southern tracks. That’s the site where a student from nearby Springfield High School was killed and another lost her leg in 2009 when they tried to beat an Amtrak train.
Because of local cost-cutting, the project had been positioned to receive funding through the Transportation Review Advisory Council, which sets Ohio’s priorities for major new highway and bridge projects.
It is still expected to remain a top priority when TRAC finalizes its latest list on Sept. 26, ODOT said.
That list is the first to be fueled by an expected $1.5 billion in borrowing guaranteed by turnpike tolls that should draw a matching amount in federal and local funds to create a $3 billion building program. The turnpike commission on Monday agreed to partly fund 10 of the 12 projects ODOT had submitted for its consideration.
It has issued $1 billion so far in bonds, $70 million of which were skimmed off the top 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 price tag for the 10 projects slightly exceeded $1 billion so the advisory council will have to make adjustments to some of the projects to get them down to $930 million before the turnpike votes next week to enter into formal agreements with ODOT.
Lawmakers and Gov. John Kasich earlier this year authorized the borrowing. The law requires approved projects to be located within 75 miles of the toll road and have some “nexus” with the turnpike in terms of impact on ridership, movement of goods and services, and access to populated areas.
“That certainly is a rather broad definition,” said Commissioner Joseph A. Balog. “Under that definition, that gives us extremely flexible latitude.”
Still, the commission found it could not make the “nexus” case for two projects — the McCord Road railroad underpass and a mass transit project in Stark County.
“I know you did everything you could to try to make [the McCord Road project] work,” Commission Chairman Jerry H. Hruby told ODOT. “There just wasn’t a way.”
Tom Paradiso of Catawba Island Township was appointed to the commission on Friday by Mr. Kasich. He cast his first votes on Monday.
“I’m very proud of the fact that almost half a billion dollars is designated toward northwest Ohio, including Erie County and Lucas County,” he said. “I’m surprised, frankly, that that much money was earmarked before I was ever involved.”
He said he was pleased with the direction Mr. Kasich went in choosing to sell bonds against the turnpike.
“When the first idea came out about selling the turnpike or leasing the turnpike, comparing ourselves to Indiana, I was a little concerned and a little sideways,” Mr. Paradiso said. “I give the governor a lot of credit, that he likes to throw ideas out and let people really work them through. This was by far the best decision that could have been made.”
Contact Jim Provance at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 614-221-0496.