Ohio’s Gov. Bob Taft, through his 10-year $5-billion Jobs and Progress Plan, has been joined by Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) Director Gordon Proctor, executive director of the Ohio Turnpike Commission (OTC) Gary Suhadolnik, and Ohio State Highway Patrol Superintendent Col. Paul McClellan, in initiating the Ohio Turnpike Capital Improvement Program (CIP).
“My tour of routes parallel to the turnpike in northern Ohio provided a dramatic look at the heavy congestion and safety hazards caused by trucks avoiding the turnpike,” said Taft. “The Northern Ohio Freight Plan will improve safety and mobility throughout the region by moving trucks to the turnpike and reducing traffic on the smaller routes.”
The Northern Ohio Freight plan consists of: lowering turnpike tolls for commercial trucks, increasing truck weight and speed enforcement on parallel state routes, and increasing the speed limit for trucks using the turnpike from 55 to 65 mph.
Another part of the CIP is constructing a third lane on the turnpike from Toledo to Youngstown. Of the proposed 160-mi. project, more than 140 mi. of the third lane have been completed. All construction under the CIP is being managed by the independent Ohio Turnpike Commission under the direction of Gary Suhadolnik.
Also included in the CIP is the reconstruction of bridges over the turnpike, reconstruction of the Norfolk & Southern Railroad Bridge over the turnpike in Summit County, renovation of 16 service and toll plazas, the painting of eight crossroad bridges, and resurfacing of both the eastbound and westbound right and center lanes between milepost 144.4 and 153.5.
Two of the existing service plazas at milepost 20.8 have been demolished and won’t be re-built.
The bridge project is scheduled for completion in 2006 and the third-lane project should be completed in late 2007. Five sets of the original service plazas, built in the mid-1950’s, have already undergone reconstruction and are now modern facilities.
Under the plan, ODOT will pay an estimated cost of $2.5 million for 25 State Highway Patrol troopers to enforce truck weight limits on routes parallel to the turnpike.
“Our highway network is essential to our state’s economy,” said Taft. “However, to ensure this economy remains vibrant and motorists traveling through northern Ohio are safe, it is vital we reduce the truck traffic volumes that routes parallel to the turnpike are experiencing.”
Initially the turnpike toll reduction was slated for only 18 months, beginning in February 2005. For the heaviest trucks, the new rates will be lower than they were in 1982, according to a news release from Taft’s office.
“The proposed toll rate for these trucks would be only one-dollar higher than it was in 1955,” it stated.
Painting of eight crossroad bridges over the turnpike, which began in June, is slated for completion in October 2006.
The eight bridges and exit numbers of each are: Stearns Road (154.6), Usher Road (156.1), S.R. 252 (156.9), Ramp over turnpike (161.8), Barr Road (171.6), Ramp over turnpike (173.3), Boston Mills Road (178), and Metro Bike Path (179).
Taft’s Jobs and Progress Plan’s purpose is to increase Ohio’s federal transportation funding by $250 million annually for the creation of jobs, rebuilding aging highways, improving safety, and to complete rural corridors throughout the state. Removing the “ethanol penalty” was an important component of Taft’s plan.
Taft, ODOT’s Proctor, and Ohio Department of Agriculture Director Fred Dailey have been working with Ohio’s Congressional Delegation to eliminate the ethanol penalty, which had cost Ohioans approximately $160 million in federal transportation funds each year.
According to a 2003 news release by Proctor, ethanol was taxed at 13 cents a gal. compared to the federal tax on gasoline of 18.4 cents per gal.
For every gallon of ethanol blended fuel sold in Ohio, the state contributed 5.4 cents less to the Highway Trust Fund. In addition, 2.5 cents of the ethanol tax was diverted from the Highway Trust Fund to the Federal General Revenue Fund.
Because Ohio’s federal transportation funding was based on the state’s payments into the highway trust fund, the more ethanol Ohio used the more revenue it lost.
“I commend our Congressional Delegation for their support in working to correct the ethanol penalty and increase federal transportation funding coming to Ohio beginning in 2006,” Taft said.
ODOT has not cut construction projects in 2006, but may have to do so in the future. After five years of stable construction costs, higher construction prices for aggregate, steel, cement and asphalt are being fueled by the 130 percent increase in diesel prices since 2004.
According to Proctor, even with the correction of the ethanol penalty “ODOT’s construction purchasing power may erode as much as 30 percent by 2010. Any project deferrals will fall disproportionately upon the Jobs and Progress Program because of its large size.” CEG