September 1, 2014

Elyria
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Local lawmakers want assurances put in Turnpike legislation

State Sen. Gayle Manning said Friday that northern Ohio roads should benefit from a $1.5 billion sale of Ohio Turnpike bonds despite assertions by Gov. John Kasich that he will not include promises of such into the bill allowing the sale.

“Most of the money usually comes back to northern Ohio anyway as it has more roads and people (than other parts of the state),” Manning, R-North Ridgeville, said a day after the Ohio House approved the governor’s proposal to generate $1.5 billion for state highway projects through the sale of Ohio Turnpike bonds to be backed by future toll revenues.

Manning chairs the Ohio Senate Standing Committee on Transportation, a post she was named to last month by Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina.

The committee directs state funds for construction and improvement of Ohio roads and highways, and the state Senate has begun hearings on the Turnpike bill.

State legislators in northern Ohio had sought guarantees that 90 percent of money generated by bond sales would be earmarked exclusively for highway and road work in areas near the 241-mile Turnpike, which travels across the northern portion of the state.

 

When he unveiled plans for the Turnpike’s future in December, Kasich pledged to retain 90 percent of funds for northern Ohio, along with a promise to freeze toll rates for 10 years for motorists making trips of 30 miles or less using the EZ Pass.

Neither guarantee was in the measure that passed the House on Thursday by a 58-36 vote.

The Kasich administration has insisted it will make good on both promises but has declined to put precise spending targets in the bill, saying it would limit flexibility.

House Republicans rejected Democratic amendments that would have ensured the key provisions were in the bill.

State Rep. Matt Lundy, D-Elyria, said he offered another amendment that was rejected that would have created a bipartisan commission to determine the boundaries of northern Ohio.

“Any county the Turnpike runs through should be eligible for those dollars,” Lundy said.

State legislators have been told by ODOT officials that passage of the bill would lead to roadwork in Columbus and Cincinnati being paid for with proceeds from the Turnpike bond sale, Lundy said.

“I want to see Center Ridge Road and (state) Route 57 near the mall improved, but this plan is no guarantee of that,” Lundy said. “I just want it in writing that these dollars will stay in northern Ohio. When you make promises you need to stand by your word.”

Funds generated by the bond sale are to be matched by another $1.5 billion in matching local and federal money.

Manning acknowledged it would be difficult to guarantee toll rates or percentages of funds allocated for road projects years into the future.

“It is hard to guarantee, but it is what we’re hoping for,” Manning said. “I’m on the Turnpike all the time. I want to do everything I can to protect (the people in northern Ohio).”

State Rep. Terry Boose, R-Norwalk, voted against the measure, as did state Rep. Dan Ramos,

D-Lorain, who said the Kasich plan would use tolls “for debt service instead of maintaining the roadways.”

Ramos said he feared tolls would continue to rise, as in Pennsylvania, to pay for Turnpike maintenance, or else the quality of the toll road would deteriorate, as has been the case in Indiana.

“We should be learning from the mistakes of our neighbors, not repeating them,” Ramos said. “The only thing we can be certain of is that those of us who live along the Turnpike will be left holding the bill.”

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.