Ohio Turnpike won't be leased 2012.12.19

Written by David Green.

Ohio will retain ownership of the Ohio Turnpike, to the relief of residents in the northern part of the state who feared the 241-mile highway system would be sold or leased to a private firm.

When Ohio Governor John Kasich announced two years ago that he was considering the sale or lease of the road, civic leaders and others across the top portion of the state bombarded the governor with letters urging him to reject the plan. Fayette village council voted in May to send a letter protesting the move.

Last week the governor announced that he would not lease the turnpike and instead he would help plug a $1.6 billion transportation budget shortfall by issuing bonds against future toll collections.

The plan is expected to raise $1.5 billion from bonds and bring another $1.5 billion in federal and local funds. A backlog of transportation projects will be addressed, prompting Ohio Transportation Director Jerry Wray to state that 20 years of projects would be rolled into six years time.

In addition, the governor says the plan will create 65,000 jobs and not result in any turnpike employee layoffs. The Ohio Turnpike Commission will be revamped and work closely with the Department of Transportation. Tolls are expected to remain lower than if the highway had been leased.

Ninety percent of the new funding is expected to go toward northern Ohio infrastructure projects, including the turnpike.

The Kasich administration lists a variety of reasons for the large budget shortfall, including the national economic decline, higher fuel prices, more fuel efficient vehicles and constantly increasing costs of construction.

Community leaders in northern Ohio feared a loss of jobs and decreased wages if the turnpike were sold or leased. Concern was also expressed about potential increases in local traffic as truckers sought to avoid high turnpike tolls.

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