TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) — Ohio’s governor wants to use the state’s toll road that links the East Coast with the Midwest to raise up to $3 billion for road projects, closing a gaping hole in the state’s highway budget.
The proposal means the Ohio Turnpike won’t be sold or leased to a private operator — an option that drew complaints about the possibility of higher tolls and job losses for those who work on the toll road that cuts across northern Ohio.
It also means many delayed highway projects will be built sooner than expected, said Republican Gov. John Kasich.
The proposal centers on raising $1.5 billion through bond sales backed by future toll revenues. Up to an additional $1.5 billion could be generated by matching local and federal funds.
“We’re unlocking the value of this important asset,” Kasich said.
Kasich says the plan will be accomplished without job losses and means there won’t be large toll increases or less maintenance on the turnpike — toll increases will be capped for trucks and frozen over the next 10 years on short trips paid for with an EZ Pass.
The governor said he rejected the idea of leasing the toll road because the state would have lost control over the roadway.
The Ohio Turnpike Commission — renamed the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission — will remain a public entity.
Transportation Director Jerry Wray said the plan will erase a $1.6 billion highway budget deficit and speed up construction on delayed construction. “We are going to move 20 years of projects into six years,” he said.
The pair plans to make additional stops in Cleveland, Youngstown, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati to tout the plan over the next two days.
Nearly all of the money bond sales will go to northern Ohio highway projects, including the turnpike. Diverting toll revenue off the roadway will require lawmaker approval.
Democrats said Kasich’s proposal raids the turnpike.
“This plan auctions off the revenue of the turnpike for one-time money, in an effort by John Kasich to get a pot of money for political patronage to sprinkle around the state,” said state Rep. John Patrick Carney, a Columbus Democrat.
The turnpike carries about 50 million vehicles each year across northern Ohio from Pennsylvania to Indiana on what is mostly Interstate 80.
Currently, all of the tolls and the sale of gas and food fund the maintenance and operation of the route, which stretches 241 miles.
Kasich at first appeared to be intent on leasing or selling the road, but local leaders from counties and cities along the along the turnpike objected loudly, saying they feared a private operator would spike tolls so high that traffic would be driven onto local routes that meander through small towns.
They pointed to the fact that tolls have nearly doubled since investors took over the Indiana Toll Road.
In Ohio, it’s now $16.50 for cars making a full trip on the turnpike, which expects to collect a $250 million from motorists this year.
Kasich has maintained that the turnpike is an underutilized asset that can bring more revenue as he is preparing to roll out a new two-year budget early next year.
He initially said the state could get at least $2.5 billion in leasing it and has said the money would pay for work on roads, bridges and harbors without raising taxes.