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Ohio Turnpike Boss Welcomes Lease Study,?Considers Options

Wed December 07, 2011 - Midwest Edition
Thomas J. Sheeran - ASSOCIATED PRESS



BEREA, Ohio (AP) A proposal to lease the Ohio Turnpike is part of the bigger issue of state government efficiency and how to pay for infrastructure costs amid limited resources, the new turnpike director said.

“We need to find ways to fund our infrastructure and if the turnpike can be part of that, I think it’s great,” Richard Hodges said Nov. 23 in an interview with The Associated Press as holiday traffic whizzed past his office in suburban Cleveland.

“Because in the short term it means jobs, and in the long term it means investing in one of the great assets of Ohio, which is our transportation system.”

Hodges, a Republican former state representative from Wauseon in northwest Ohio, became executive director of the 241-mi. toll road recently amid a growing debate over leasing.

Hodges said he welcomes the debate, a promised study and likely criticism from opponents of leasing.

“Gov. [John] Kasich has demonstrated his leadership in looking at every agency of state government trying to find economy and efficiencies, trying to rethink the role of those agencies and I think we need to go through that process as well in that spirit,” Hodges said.

“We are in a completely different economic world than we were just five years ago,” he added.

Leasing critics fear it would lead to poor maintenance and profit-driven higher tolls that could cause motorists to travel adjacent highways instead.

State Rep. Ronald Gerberry, an Austintown Democrat who lives near the eastern end of the turnpike, predicted a company leasing the toll road would never maintain the road in its current good shape.

As for studying whether to lease the turnpike, Gerberry said, “It seems to me that somebody is making money to do stupid studies that we don’t need.”

A fellow Democratic lawmaker from the turnpike corridor, state Rep. Matt Lundy of Elyria, said leasing would mean the loss of control.

“The bottom line is you’re relinquishing control of a state asset and when you relinquish control of a state asset then you’re pretty much at the mercy of whoever’s running it at the time,” he said.

This year, Indiana marked the five-year anniversary of its $3.8 billion lease of the Indiana Toll Road to foreign investors. The state has spent much of the money on highway projects and put $500 million into an investment fund for future road construction. But tolls nearly doubled since investors took over.