Portage reaping $55 million windfall from AMATS

By Mike Sever | staff writer Published:

Portage County communities are benefiting to the tune of millions for roads and other projects from working together with others from Summit County through the area transportation study group known as AMATS.

From 2007 through 2017 local projects are slated to get nearly $55 million through the agency. The projects require a 20 percent match of local money.

The Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study has been around since 1962. It serves Portage and Summit counties and Chippewa Township in Wayne County and is one of 17 transportation planning agencies in Ohio. It and similar agencies across the U.S. were established as a result of the Federal Aid Highway Act, requiring urban areas to have cooperative planning processes.

The relocation of the Crain Avenue bridge to Fairchild Avenue made Kent the biggest municipal recipient in the county of AMATS funds from 2007 to 2017. Kent’s total will top $19.1 million for the period. 

The next big project will be in 2016 when Kent begins the rebuilding of East Summit Street in the Kent State University area from Lincoln Street to Loop Road. City Engineer Jim Bowling said the Kent/KSU project is getting $5.5 million through AMATS. The aim is to reduce traffic congestion, increase safety and access.

“AMATS  is a significant part of the redevelopment of downtown Kent and the changes that have gone on since 2009,” Bowling said.

Kent’s AMATS tally is followed by Aurora at $5.7 million with most going for the widening of S.R. 43; then Streetsboro at nearly $4.5 million for work on S.R. 303 and Frost Road in 2016; Ravenna is fourth at nearly $2.3 million with about half for the west side traffic signal project in 2016; at fifth, Portage County got $1.6 million for resurfacing projects; Hiram is slated for $973,404 with most going for extension of the Headwaters Trail in 2016; and Mantua is seventh at $45,000 for sidewalks next year.

Streetsboro Mayor Glenn Broska said “we have worked very hard to improve our relationship with AMATS.” In past years the city hasn’t gotten much in funding, but that could have been because the city didn’t have the 20 percent local match or didn’t apply for funding.

“We are willing to put up the 20 percent, to set it aside so (projects) are ready to go if AMATS money is available. We have shown AMATS we are a good partner,” Broska said. 

He also applauded AMATS for its lack of political bias.

“They really, truly look at the need and what is going to benefit the people and the community and the traveling public. I really like that about them,” Broska said.

Ravenna Mayor Joe Bica said the city, which for years did not participate in AMATS, is now getting “significant” amounts for its traffic projects.

“We have been highly successful” in getting funds, Bica said. From 2008 to this year, Ravenna received more than $526,000 for pavement repair, disability access ramps at intersections and other work. From 2014 through 2018 the city is slated to receive nearly $1.6 million for the West Side traffic signal project, sidewalks on North Chestnut Street, and repaving of Cleveland Road and Highland and Diamond streets.

“If you’re not there, you’re not going to get the money. We are a voice, where we have never been a voice ever before,” Bica said. Last year, Bica chaired the policy committee which is made up of elected officials from the study area. He said being active in AMATS and talking with officials from other communities brings a broader perspective and strengthened relationships. 

Portage County Engineer Michael Marozzi, who has served as AMATS policy committee chairman three or four times during his career, said “No question, AMATS is extremely valuable to us. We get direct impact services through actual federal grants and indirect services as well.”

Those include studies on which roads and intersections have the most accidents, traffic counts and other areas. If not done by AMATS, local governments would have to pay consultants for those studies, Marozzi said. The information helps determine where road improvements are to be made and is used in the federal grant requests, Marozzi said.

AMATS receives more than $17 million a year from the federal gasoline tax to invest in the region’s transportation infrastructure. A few years ago, when gas tax revenues started to decrease, Marozzi said he began to lobby for AMATS to change its emphasis from funding new road and highway construction to improving existing infrastructure.

Jason Segedy, AMATS director, highlighted that philosophy this spring when he told local officials the region should be looking to “fix what we have” as Ohio’s demographics and economy change. Segedy said state and local governments should concentrate on fixing existing roads and bridges and support communities and developed areas before adding highway capacity that will encourage more development. To that end, 77 percent of the agency’s Transportation Improvement Program is devoted to maintaining and operating the existing transportation system.

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