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Turnpike bonding plan best hope for catching up with highway needs, ACEC Ohio tells legislators

Governor John Kasich's plan to issue highway construction bonds backed by Ohio Turnpike tolls is the only hope the state has of shrinking its backlog of badly needed highway projects anytime soon, ACEC Ohio Executive Director Donald L. Mader told a legislative committee Thursday.

In testimony to the Transportation Subcommittee of the Ohio House Finance Committe, Mader said that while the governor's plan, spelled out in House Bill 51, is not ideal, "it's the only game in town."

"We and most other transportation advocates would prefer to see a “pay-as-you-go” approach, funded by an increase in the state and federal fuel taxes, or even better yet, by a more forward-thinking solution, such as a vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) tax," Mader said.

"But we don’t live in an ideal world.  On both sides of the aisle, in Columbus and in Washington, the consensus is that gasoline tax increases aren’t a viable solution at this point in time.

"Given that political reality, Governor Kasich’s proposal really is the best game in town – the only hope we have for quickly accomplishing hundreds of projects, all round the state – that bring with them real, tangible economic and public safety benefits."

Prior to Mader's testimony, Ohio Department of Transportation Director Jerry Wray and Ohio Turnpike Commission Executive Director Richard Hodges spent nearly two hours answering questions about the plan and defending it against continual criticism from Rep. John Carney (D-Columbus).

Carney said he doesn't trust that ODOT and the Transportation Review Advisory Council will spend the bulk of the bond money on projects in northern Ohio and insists that language be included in the bill that would guarantee 90 percent of the funds will be spent on projects in the vicinity of the turnpike.

Including such a guarantee in legislation "is not very wise transportation planning," Mader advised. "We urge you to allow the transportation professionals at ODOT and the expert members of the TRAC to continue to use their best judgment in allocating Ohio’s highway funding resources."

Mader concluded his testimony by saying, "You can adopt this less-than-ideal plan, and communities throughout Ohio will benefit by sharing in a larger funding pie.  Or you can reject this plan, and communities all across the state, in northern, central and southern Ohio, can resign themselves to the prospect of sharing a much smaller pie and watching with growing frustration as their needs continue to go unmet."

Hearings on H.B. 51 will continue this week in the full House Finance Committee, which is also holding hearings on the $6.127 ODOT budget bill for fiscal years 2014-15.

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