$5M state fund to fix projects near turnpike

Ohio, local officials review new program in Maumee

12/6/2013
BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

For years, the Ohio Turnpike Commission and the Sandusky County Engineer’s Office argued over responsibility for repairing collapsed ramps meant to lift numerous county and township roads up to bridges over the toll road.

The Ohio General Assembly finally settled that squabble by declaring the turnpike duty-bound, and the rebuilding of 11 failing embankments is scheduled for completion next year.

The Ohio Department of Transportation has set up a $5 million annual program to pay for — or at least help pay for — projects along the turnpike that primarily would benefit local motorists or people who live nearby.

Greg Murphy, ODOT’s chief of staff, said the program “demonstrates cooperation between all state agencies” and was inspired by local officials’ comments during meetings Gov. John Kasich and his administration held along the toll road several years ago to study its management model.

Mr. Murphy and other officials met again Wednesday in Maumee with Toledo-area transportation leaders to explain the program. Funds will be distributed in response to competitive applications.

Along with shoring up collapsing embankments, eligible projects could include such things as bridge-deck repairs, drainage improvements, and noise walls along the turnpike.

Rick Hodges, the turnpike’s executive director, said after the meeting that such projects historically haven’t been compatible with his agency’s mission.

“Our culture has always been separate, focusing on the rapid movement of freight traffic from Buffalo [or Pittsburgh] and Chicago,” Mr. Hodges said. “But we’re part of the state’s transportation system, and it’s time for us to rethink that relationship.”

Funding for Turnpike Mitigation Program projects will come from ODOT, he said, because $1 billion in construction bonds the turnpike recently sold for projects are dedicated to major capacity expansion, such as the I-75 widening between Perrysburg and Findlay.

“It’s a very good program. What that money will do is allow locals to perform projects to address problems that are created because of the existence of the turnpike,” said Fulton County Engineer Frank Onweller, who attended the meeting.

Mr. Onweller said his first application will be for repairs to a ramp embankment where Franklin Township Road 22 crosses the turnpike.

“There’s some slope slippage — it’s starting to show,” he said. “We want to get to it before failure occurs. We haven’t seen any others we’re concerned about.”

Keith Earley, the Lucas County engineer, said he’s not aware of any problems with county or township roads “like they’ve had in Sandusky County,” but he plans to send out inspectors to see what needs might exist, such as guardrail upgrades or drainage repairs.

A six-member committee — made up of the turnpike’s maintenance engineer, the ODOT deputy director for planning, and the planning and engineering administrators for the four ODOT districts through which the turnpike passes — will review project proposals.

Projects that include local funding are expected to get favorable consideration, Mr. Murphy said.

The application deadline for the first year’s projects is Jan. 31, Mr. Murphy said, but the plan is for the program to be as permanent as anything in state government can be. Applicants may reapply if turned down.

“It’s quite a bit of money, year after year,” Mr. Hodges said.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.