ODOT director defends keeping turnpike under state control

Columbus Business First

Ohio Department of Transportation Director Jerry Wray acknowledged that leasing the Ohio Turnpike to a private company could have raised more money for the state but said in an open letter that issuing bonds against future tolls achieves two goals: Keeping the toll road under state control and raising needed funding for highway projects. “While a strong majority of the bond money will be spent in northern Ohio, the plan will free up other funds to accelerate badly needed highway projects statewide – delivering more projects faster,” Wray said in a column sent to newspapers statewide. Earlier this month, the state released the findings of a study of the toll road that concluded Ohio could have netted more than $4 billion by leasing the turnpike to a private entity over the course of 50 years, but Gov. John Kasich said the state instead would issue $1.5 billion in bonds against future toll revenue. That funding will be used for projects in northern Ohio, where the turnpike stretches 241 miles east to west, and free up funding for projects in other parts of the state. The state also plans to freeze EZ Pass tolls at current levels for 10 years and cap other toll increases at the rate of inflation. The state has delayed dozens of projects in the next three years, including Interstate 71 in Columbus and the city’s north Outerbelt, as it looked to fill a $1.6 billion funding gap. Wray said in his column that the state’s plan would help it “take a bite out of Ohio’s highway budget deficit and dedicate approximately $1.5 billion for critical infrastructure projects.” “This new program will provide vital transportation projects to keep Ohio’s economy moving forward,” he said. “Ohioans are looking to us to put aside any differences and work together to find innovative solutions to these critical needs.”

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