COLUMBUS -- A lawmaker panel has given initial approval to language that would require 90 percent of bonding proceeds leveraged from the Ohio Turnpike to be used for projects within 75 miles to the state's lone toll road.
Toll rates also would be frozen for shorter turnpike trips, and speed limits on other Ohio highways would be increased to 70 mph.
Those were among the amendments accepted by the Senate's transportation committee Monday as part of substitute legislation combining separate bills that outline spending for the Ohio Department of Transportation and Gov. John Kasich's turnpike plans.
The new Senate Bill 51 was unanimously accepted for review by the committee's Republican and Democratic members. Final committee action could come as early as today, with an expected floor vote by midweek. A conference committee of lawmakers from the Senate and House will negotiate a final bill.
"The citizens of northern Ohio have said all along that we believe that if the program is going to be based on revenues generated by the turnpike that the vast majority of the funds should be utilized for transportation needs in northern Ohio," Sen. Randy Gardner, a Republican from Bowling Green, said after Monday's committee session. "That's what the amendment does."
The transportation budget outlines more than $7 billion in spending authority for ODOT and several other agencies, including the Ohio Department of Public Safety.
The substitute legislation also solidifies a plan outlined by Kasich that calls for the state to borrow about $1.5 billion, via bonding against future tolls.
The administration has said that 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.
Those issues have been the focus of much debate during legislative deliberations.
The Ohio House moved the transportation budget and turnpike plan as separate legislation, without amendments offered by Democrats that would have ensured the majority of funding was spent north of U.S. Route 30 and that tolls were frozen for certain commuters.
But the Ohio Senate recombined the two bills and added language requiring most of the turnpike bonding to be spent in northern Ohio and freezing tolls over the next decade for trips of 30 miles or less when tolls are paid electronically.
Other provisions included substitute legislation included:
An increase in the speed limit to 70 mph on interstate freeways outside of urban areas, and to 65 mph on outer belts around cities.
The removal of provisions allowing heavier trucks (90,000 pounds, up from 80,000 pounds) on state highways and longer vehicles (50 feet, up from 40 feet) with special hauling permits.
The allowance of plastic, aluminum and other materials to be used to make license plates, in addition to steel.
An option for people purchasing new license plates to retain their existing number and letter combinations.
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.