Ohio’s construction projects may benefit from privatizing

Dayton Daily News
by Laura A Bischoff

COLUMBUS — Some of Ohio’s largest road and bridge construction projects wouldn’t have to wait decades if state leaders considered using private companies to build and operate transportation venues normally controlled by government, Ohio Department of Transportation officials said Wednesday.

ODOT got the green light in a transportation budget bill last year to use public-private partnerships to finance big projects. And the agency is considering privatizing 59 noninterstate rest stops and examining other ways to leverage state assets to generate cash, including leasing the Ohio Turnpike to a private operator.

Without an infusion of new funding, ODOT said this week, dozens of worthy projects would have to be delayed, including a year-long delay for the final phase of the Interstate 75 construction project in downtown Dayton and a two-decade-long delay for widening I-70 in Clark County. ODOT officials say there is no support for increasing gas taxes, which currently fund ODOT’s 
$2 billion budget.

“I think you’re going to see things like P3 (public-private partnerships) initiatives pop up all across the state,” said Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce Vice President Chris Kershner, who was appointed by Gov. John Kasich to the Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC), which is responsible for approving transportation project funding.

ODOT is paying Halcrow Group, an international consulting company, $750,000 to deliver a report on potential options later this year.

TRAC member Jack Marchbanks, a former ODOT deputy director, said public-private partnerships have been used in Great Britain, Canada and other U.S. states. Some deals have worked out well while others have not, Marchbanks said.

Dale Butland, spokesman for Innovation Ohio, a left leaning think tank in Columbus, said that the state needs to look at alternative funding but cautioned against deals that might lead to more tolls.

“There may be something to the public-private idea but it all depends on the way it is done,” Butland said. “Ohioans don’t want to be another New Jersey, New York or New England where you pay a toll every few miles to get almost anywhere.”

The Kasich administration has embraced privatization of government assets as a way to get upfront cash for other projects. Last year, the state shifted its job creation duties to a new nonprofit organization, turned the keys to three prisons over to contractors, and gave the go-ahead to cities and universities to sell or lease their parking operations and other buildings to private companies.

Contact this reporter at lbischoff@ DaytonDailyNews.com.

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