Ohio legislature passes $7.8 billion transportation bill

Y-Bridge, Zanesville, OH

Y-Bridge, Zanesville, OH

The Ohio House and Senate passed a $7.8 billion transportation bill this week after lawmakers removed $48 million earmarked for local infrastructure projects and $30 million for public transit. The two-year transportation budget will now go to Gov. John Kasich’s office for his signature.

The transportation budget is separate from the state’s main operating budget and provides funding for ODOT, the Department of Public Safety, the Public Works Commission and the Development Services Agency. The new transportation budget bill includes several fee increases and modifications as well as a pilot program to test the effect of variable speed limits on traffic congestion.

Transportation budget highlights

  • Allows counties to charge an additional $5 vehicle registration fee to help fund local road and bridge projects
  • Allows Deputy Registrars to increase their service fees from the current $3.25 to as much as $5.25
  • Re-authorizes the Ohio Bridge Partnership Program which provides resources for county bridge projects
  • Reduces the registration fee for commercial vehicles from $30 to $15 in Clinton, Franklin, Lucas, Mahoning, Montgomery, and Stark counties to encourage more trucks to register in Ohio
  • Authorizes variable speed limits on I-90 in Cleveland, I-670 in Columbus, and I-75 in Cincinnati to cope with severe weather conditions or high traffic periods

Transportation bill does not provide long-term highway funding solutions

All of these measures will help increase Ohio’s transportation revenue. They may also help ease traffic congestion and utilize existing highways more efficiently. However, they still do not address the biggest highway funding issue. The new transportation bill does not offer long-term solutions to replace shrinking motor fuel tax revenue.

The state gas tax has stood at 28 cents-per-gallon for more than ten years. But with fuel efficiency increasing and more cars powered by electricity or natural gas, the annual revenue generated by the gas tax has declined. Additionally, because of inflation, each dollar of gas tax revenue buys much less today than 20 or 30 years ago. The result is inadequate long-term funding for Ohio’s infrastructure.

Meeting local infrastructure needs

The original Senate version of the transportation bill allocated an additional $48 million from existing gas tax revenue to counties and municipalities for local road and bridge projects. But according to the Ohio Department of Transportation, using the money for that purpose could have a negative effect on the state’s ability to leverage federal dollars. As part of the House-Senate compromise, the additional $48 million for local infrastructure was removed from the final bill.

Despite that legislative compromise, the budget negotiations clearly recognized the revenue needs of Ohio’s local communities. According to a Cleveland.com article, Senate President Larry Obhof said lawmakers could find other opportunities to increase funding for local transportation projects as well as public transit. And the Columbus Dispatch noted that Obhof has asked the Senate Ways and Means Committee to start hearings on alternatives to the gas tax for raising revenues to fix roads and bridges. This is an important step toward Ohio’s future. Finding additional or alternative sources of transportation funding is critical to ensuring the long-term health of our infrastructure. And right now is the perfect time to begin the conversation!

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