Gov. John Kasich has aban-
doned a proposal to lease the Ohio Turnpike to a private operator, a wise move that ought to ease concerns about a loss of state control over the vital transportation link that has served northern Ohio for nearly 60 years.
Instead, the governor is proposing that the turnpike remain a state highway and become a significant revenue generator as well, with the sale of $1.5 million in bonds tied to future toll revenues. Kasich expects the revenues from the bond sales will be matched by federal and other sources, which would yield $3 billion that would be earmarked for road construction, mostly for projects in northern Ohio
Many of the projects under consideration were shelved by state officials earlier this year because of financial concerns. Plans for them would be revived under Kasich's proposal, which must receive legislative approval.
The bond sale would generate the necessary funding for the constuction projects and erase a $1.6 billion highway fund deficit. "We are going to move 20 years of projects in six years," ODOT director Jerry Wray said following Kasich's announcement.
Democrats, including State Rep. Kathleen Clyde of Kent, question whether the plan will work as outlined or instead be used for road projects around the state. That would make the turnpike a cash cow, generating funds through increased tolls affecting motorists in northern Ohio that would benefit road construction elsewhere. That's a valid concern that ought to be addressed by the legislature.
Overall, however, the plan appears to be a solid one. Tolls would be frozen for the next decade on passenger trips of less than 30 miles paid for with an EZ Pass, and capped at the rate of inflation for longer trips and truck travel. Out-of-state drivers account for the majority of long-distance travel on the turnpike, which means that they would be footing most of the cost for the higher tolls.
Most importantly, the Ohio Turnpike would remain owned and controlled by the state of Ohio. While leasing the 241-mile roadway to a private operator would have generated billions for the state, that route also could have resulted in what has occurred in neighboring states that have privatized their turnpikes: the loss of jobs, higher tolls and reduced maintenance.
The turnpike has been a valuable state resource since it opened in 1955. Governor Kasich, to his credit, has responded to concerns about the loss of control that would have resulted from privatizing it. The plan he has come up with an alternative that will keep the Turnpike in state hands while enabling it to generate revenues needed to improve transportation in northern Ohio.