Two events during the past month have important ramifications for Ohio’s transportation infrastructure. First, the American Society of Civil Engineers published its much anticipated 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. Second, Governor Kasich signed Ohio’s $7.6 billion, 2-year transportation budget. Together these events set the stage for significant transportation improvements in Ohio.
The ASCE Report Card provides political leaders, policymakers, business leaders, infrastructure stakeholders, the media and the general public with expert advice from the civil engineering community about the condition of infrastructure across the nation. The 2013 Report Card gives America’s road system a grade of D, up slightly from D- in 2009. The positive change resulted from targeted efforts to improve road conditions along with significant reductions in highway fatalities. Similarly, the overall grade for bridges increased from C to C+, a change attributable to a downward trend in the number of structurally deficient bridges. America is moving in the right direction but has a long way to go to maintain the best transportation system in the world.
At the state level, the ASCE Report Card indicates that 42% of Ohio roads are still in poor or mediocre condition. Likewise, 9.1% of our bridges are structurally deficient and 15.9% are considered functionally obsolete. These Ohio statistics remain about the same as they were in 2009. But as of April 1, we have a new Ohio Transportation budget – and the opportunity to make significant road and bridge improvements over the next two years.
The Transportation budget authorizes the sale of $1.5 billion in new bonds leveraged against turnpike toll revenues. This will generate as much as $3 billion for road projects statewide. Specifically, the turnpike runs across northern Ohio for 241 miles. And the transportation budget requires that 90% of the money generated from the bond sale be spent on road projects within 75 miles of the turnpike path. That covers a lot of ground and provides funding for substantial improvements to Ohio roadways. The new budget – and the turnpike plan that is a key part of it – may not cover all the repair and restoration that our roads and bridges need. But it sure gives Ohio the opportunity to make some real infrastructure progress.
Approximately 125,000 miles of state highways, interstates, and local roads crisscross the state of Ohio. They are heavily traveled, giving Ohio residents reliable access to work and play in communities throughout the state. They are a major force in Ohio’s economy, moving freight to and from Great Lakes and Ohio River ports and providing a vital link between the Eastern seaboard and the Midwest. In short, Ohio boasts one of the largest and most heavily utilized roadway networks in the United States.
A few years ago the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) published the Ohio Infrastructure Report Card. Statistics from their 2009 study have been used frequently in news reports, business proposals and political speeches. And rightly so! The 125,000 miles of Ohio public roads represent more than 3.0% of the total length of public roadways in the United States. Ohio ranks 7th nationally in total public road length and 5th nationally in Interstate road length behind Texas, California, Illinois and Pennsylvania. (The U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) places Ohio at 6th nationally for Interstate, behind New York.)
The scope of Ohio’s highway network naturally results in heavier usage for both personal travel and commercial transport. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Ohio ranked 5th in the nation in Highway Vehicle-Miles Traveled (VMT) in 2010, up a notch from 6th place in 2005. That ranking translates to a VMT of 111,836 million miles! Over time, that level of annual usage causes significant wear and tear on our roadways. As a result Ohio faces deteriorating road conditions, increasing traffic congestion, and compromised highway safety. In fact, the ASCE Report Card classifies 43% of Ohio roads as being in “critical”, “poor” or “fair” condition. The situation is exacerbated by highway funding shortfalls that delay necessary improvements and maintenance.
Proper funding for our roadway network is a must for Ohio’s – and America’s – future success. The most effective long term solution may well be a combination of state and federal gas taxes, user fees for Vehicle-Miles Traveled, tolls and other revenue sources. In the short term however, restructuring the state gas tax definitely merits consideration. The Ohio gas tax was last increased in 2005 and is currently the 11th highest in the nation. However, at 28 cents per gallon, it is much closer to the national average of 23.4 cents than states with higher motor fuel taxes. Given the extensive use of our highways, the ongoing need for highway improvements and the overall size of Ohio’s roadway network, a state gas tax adjustment is certainly worth a look. Our roads deserve the best care we can provide!