State Falls Short on Roadwork $$

Bucyrun Telegraph Forum
by Jessica Alaimo
1/20/2012

The Ohio Department of Transportation needs more money if it’s going to put a dent in the list of necessary construction projects around Ohio, state officials say.

On Tuesday the department issued a list of projects that it currently has the means to fund — and it painted a dismal picture, with some projects delayed for nearly a generation.

“If Ohioans are saying, ‘We can’t live with that,’ we have to come up with additional revenue for construction projects,” said state Rep. Jay Hottinger, R-Newark.

One of the areas receiving bad news Tuesday was Fairfield County, which found out that one interchange along U.S. 33 was delayed for 19 years, and another project was knocked off the list.

“Absolutely more revenue is needed to ensure long-term viability,” said Holly Mattei, executive director of the Fairfield County Regional Planning Commission. “But how do we get there? It’s a challenge everyone is trying to figure out.”

The most talked about option thus far is to lease the Ohio Turnpike to a private entity.

In 2006, Indiana leased its toll road for 75 years to a Spanish-Australian investor group for $3.8 billion in cash up front. Gov. Mitch Daniels’ administration is using that money to finance highway construction projects across the state.

“If we can generate billions of dollars in upfront money that we can use toward construction, that is something that will at least be considered,” Hottinger said.

Rob Nichols, spokesman for Gov. John Kasich, said it is an issue that the administration is studying, but no decisions have been made.

“If it doesn’t make financial sense, we’re not going to do it,” Nichols said.

Another option is to raise the state’s fuel tax, which has been at 28 cents per gallon since 2005.

Ohioans used 29 million fewer gallons of fuel in 2011 than they did in 2001, according to the Ohio Department of Taxation.

“The money for these projects is a product of the gas tax…,” said state Rep. Ross McGregor, R-Springfield. “The consumption of gas is declining, but you also are incurring an increase in the materials used for infrastructure projects.”

McGregor chairs the Transportation Subcommittee within the House Finance and Appropriations Committee.

He says he would not support a hike in the fuel tax, nor would Kasich.

McGregor said one option may be to find a way for people driving alternative-fuel vehicles to pay their share, too.

However two other Republican lawmakers didn’t completely dismiss the idea of raising the gas tax.

Hottinger said that while he has supported the gas tax in the past, “I clearly wasn’t comfortable with the amount of revenue being spent on road construction in Ohio,” he said.

But he doesn’t see it flying in the current legislature.

“Gas prices are already ridiculously high, and have significant sways,” Hottinger said.

State Rep. Rex Damschroder, R-Fremont, isn’t ruling it out. He said the fuel tax is a use tax — a way of paying for the roads you use.

Yet another option for the state is to enlist the help of private businesses to help build the roads.

But Nichols said businesses will expect a return on their investment.

This could mean more toll roads and bridges throughout the state, he said.

However, Damschroder said that could be an inequity to people who live along those toll roads, whereas with a fuel tax hike, “the whole state would share equally.”

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