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ODOT Construction Plan Facing Criticism

The Ohio Department of Transportation has released a draft construction plan with new projects slated for every part of the state. Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles reports.

The proposed transportation plan provides a three billion dollar investment that’s expected to create at least 60 thousand new jobs.  One of the big projects planned is a 334 million dollar investment to improve interstate access to a key part of Cleveland.  There’s also 440 million set aside for the Portsmouth bypass in Southeast Ohio, and a 107 million dollar interchange in Southwest Ohio.  The plan also calls for millions of dollars to widen some roads throughout Ohio including I 75 in Northwest Ohio, I 80 in Eastern Ohio and the 70/71 project in Central Ohio.  The Director of the Ohio Department of Transportation, Jerry Wray, says the projects chosen scored at the top of a process that took into account many different factors.  But he says that doesn’t mean the ones that were rejected were necessarily bad. 

Wray – There are tremendous needs all over the state and all of the projects that were requested and applied for have value.  They have merit based on safety, congestions, opportunities for jobs and development and when you begin to score them , they have merit.  However, the resources are finite.  The resources, when I talk about that, a lot of people think about money but there’s also time in what it takes to develop a project.  So even though we have a lot of money in the eyes of folks who are looking at the department of transportation, it’s still finite and our mission is enormous.  There is so much that we are expected to do all around the state and there’s just not enough money to meet all of those wants and needs.

The Norhern part of Ohio got a lot of new projects under this plan and Wray says that’s because of one thing – the one and a half billion dollars worth of bonds that will come from leasing the Ohio Turnpike.
Wray – We’ve followed the same process we’ve always followed but the only thing is there is the opportunity for those projects that have a proposed nexus and are within 75 miles of the turnpike, there’s a better opportunity for them to get funding because there’s money that’s available to them.

An advocate for public transportation in Ohio says he’s disappointed this proposed budget plan.  Gene Krebs says the fact is….the department’s long tern funding still depends on the gasoline tax that drivers pay.  The problem, he says, is this budget ignores an important trend.

Krebs – The youth are simply, as a cohort, driving 23% less than previous generation groups.  The Millenials, the Y generation coming through, drive about a quarter less than their parents did.  And that’s going to translate into two things….one, less traffic on the road but also it is going to translate into substantially less dollars for ODOT to spend because this is a state where the ODOT money comes from gasoline sold.  So as everyone trades in Hummers for Hondas and the youth drive substantially less than their parents ever dreamed of doing, it’s all going to have a negative impact.

Krebs says younger Ohioans favor public transportation, not driving.  Yet this budget doesn’t contain any major public transportation projects.  So what happens to this plan?  Ohioans can find it on the transportation department’s website and make written comments on it up until the 16th of August.  After that time, the commission will get together again and use that input from the public to finalize the final transportation plan .

Jim has been with WCBE since 1996. Before that he worked as a reporter at another Columbus radio station, and for three newspapers in Southwest Florida.
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