The Ohio Department of Transportation announcement of plans for the 2016 construction season generated a lot of media coverage in recent weeks. And rightly so! The numbers are impressive. Overall, ODOT will invest $2.1 billion this year in 1,100 infrastructure projects statewide. ODOT’s news release states that, collectively the projects “are designed to improve the condition of roads and bridges, increase safety, and make the transportation of people and goods more efficient.”
ODOT’s 2016 construction agenda is a diligent, well-planned effort. Approximately 90% of the construction budget is dedicated to improving the condition of 1,167 bridges and 6,485 miles of pavement. Also included are 157 additional projects that focus specifically on safety. The remaining 10% of the construction budget will be used to add capacity to the system where it is most needed, primarily expanding roads to ease current levels of traffic congestion.
The 2016 construction plan and budget allocation remain true to ODOT’s aggressive preservation strategy – to get the longest life possible out of our road and bridge surfaces with the best quality possible. They are doing a tremendous job with the financial resources available. To achieve more would require substantially more funding – and that is not expected in the near future.
The federal government’s 2015 “Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act” – or FAST Act – will keep highway funding flowing to the states for the time being. But with the federal gas tax stuck at 18.4 cents-per-gallon since 1993, the Highway Trust Fund will face insolvency once again in just a few years. Unfortunately, the FAST Act included no plan for a sustainable, long-term funding mechanism. At the state level, Ohio’s gas tax has remained at 28 cents-per-gallon for ten years or more. And since the Ohio gas tax is not adjusted for inflation, the dollars collected simply don’t buy as much as they did a decade ago.
What can we conclude? In the current funding scenario, ODOT will certainly continue its excellent work and preservation strategy for our roads and bridges. We can count on their pledge of – “Taking Care of What We Have.” However, if Ohioans want the level of expansion needed to create an outstanding transportation system that will carry our state well into the future, a meaningful discussion about sustainable, long-term funding must begin right now. Excellent roads and bridges that help keep transportation safe and power Ohio’s economic engine do not come free. They require a commitment from all of us. The investment is worth it!