Kasich's Ohio Turnpike plan will require lawmaker approval

by MARC KOVAC | CAPITAL BUREAU CHIEF Published:

Columbus -- A plan to leverage the Ohio Turnpike for funding for backlogged road and bridge projects will require lawmaker approval, which Gov. John Kasich expects will be provided early in the new year.

Though $1.5 billion in bonding will be sought through the turnpike commission, the move still will require legislative action, administration officials told reporters Dec. 14 during a press conference in Columbus.

That and other provisions in Kasich's plan could be accomplished through the next biennial transportation budget or through a separate bill, if the latter would move the process more quickly.

"We've identified sponsors already," said Matt Carle, director of legislative affairs for the governor. "We are beginning to work on drafting the legislation. That will not be until probably mid-January, and once we have that done … We hope to introduce it maybe separately from the transportation budget and get it done quickly."

Kasich, members of his administration and representatives of groups that support his turnpike proposal were on the road again Dec. 14 for a second day of stops around the state, hoping to build support.

The plan would maintain state ownership of the turnpike, meaning no lease or sale to a private entity.

"Losing control of this asset didn't make the most amount of sense to me," the governor said Dec. 14. "And, also, the fact that people were really worried about it. You have to take that into account, but that doesn't dictate what you do. By being able to control this asset over time, there's great value in that, plus the ability to have say over how this whole operation moves forward."

Under Kasich's plan, the state would borrow about $1.5 billion, via bonding against tolls, and hope to leverage another $1.5 billion in local and federal funding for use in construction projects.

More than 90 percent of new bond money would go to roadwork in the northern third of the state. Tolls would be frozen for regular users of the turnpike who travel shorter distances.

Though some Democratic state lawmakers criticized the approach Thursday, saying it amounted to a political slush fund that the governor could use to build support for his re-election, many other groups have announced their support, including labor groups representing road construction crew.

"In northern Ohio, some folks were concerned that perhaps our operations would be affected or our level of service would be affected, and I'm thrilled because the day-to-day operations of the Ohio Turnpike will remain the same," said Richard Hodges, executive director of the Ohio Turnpike Commission and a Republican who served in the Ohio House. "Our customers will see no difference in the service and amenities they've come to expect over the last 58 years. Also, Gov. Kasich's plan means there will be no disruption in operations, and the thousand employee who work for the turnpike can enjoy this holiday season knowing that their jobs and their families are secure."

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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