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Fix Our Roads Ohio Daily Clips January 30, 2019

Articles:

Canton Repository – Editorial: Funding for Ohio’s roads falling short

Columbus Dispatch - DeWine seeking solutions to Ohio’s road money shortfall

WCPO (Cincinnati) - Would you pay more at the gas pump if it meant safer Ohio roads and bridges?

Piqua Daily Call - Commentary: Bridging the gap of Ohio’s infrastructure

 

Canton Repository

January 30, 2019

 https://www.cantonrep.com/opinion/20190130/editorial-funding-for-ohios-roads-falling-short

Editorial: Funding for Ohio’s roads falling short

By The Canton Repository Editorial Board

While we shiver and shake today and Thursday, it might be difficult to remember all the way back to Monday, when the high temperature reached a balmy 39 degrees. And the forecast for next Monday: a high of 53.

So imagine what’s happening to our roads with these wild swings from above-freezing temperatures, with rain, to the quick-onset freezing and back to thawing in rapid succession.

We all know what’s happening: Wide, deep, axle-bending potholes are forming.

Even worse news: neither the state government nor most municipalities have in place the dollars needed to address adequately the issue of crumbling roads and other transportation infrastructure.

At the state level, Ohio must find an alternative source for $1.5 billion in expired turnpike bond revenue. That money supplemented funding for construction and repairs for the past several years. Also, the state’s gas tax has not increased since reaching 28 cents per gallon in 2005.

Acknowledging these issues Monday, Gov. Mike DeWine announced the creation of the Ohio Governor’s Advisory Committee on Transportation Infrastructure. Over the next few weeks, its members will study the state’s roadways and will recommend options for maintenance and improvements and how to fund those projects.

Douglas Sibila, president and CEO of Canton-based Peoples Services, is among the 15 committee members.

“We must ensure that our transportation system is not only safe and reliable, but that it also strengthens our economy by offering accessibility for current and new businesses,” DeWine said in a news release.

He said he wants the committee’s recommendations before he introduces his two-year transportation budget in mid-February.

Six months from now, remind us not to lament “orange barrel season” in Ohio. We should remember to be thankful for the jobs road projects create and for the improved driving conditions overall. Besides, by then we might be able to feel our toes.

 

Columbus Dispatch

January 29, 2019

 https://www.dispatch.com/news/20190129/dewine-seeking-solutions-to-ohios-road-money-shortfall

DeWine seeking solutions to Ohio’s road money shortfall

By Jim Siegel

Facing a state transportation budget that lacks money for new major infrastructure projects, Gov. Mike DeWine has assembled a committee and tasked it to quickly come up with options.

A key question is whether it will recommend raising money through a gas tax increase — the most obvious short-term funding solution — or if it can find alternatives.

The 15-member committee, which includes representatives of oil and gas, local governments, unions, Honda, trucking and the travel industry, has just two weeks to propose solutions to a funding shortage that, as it stands, would leave at least 20 major road projects sitting idle, including a handful in and around Columbus.

Local officials also have been warned about potential state funding reductions for a host of smaller local road and bridge projects.

“We must ensure that our transportation system is not only safe and reliable, but that it also strengthens our economy by offering accessibility for current and new businesses,” DeWine said.

Ohio’s road construction budget has been propped up in recent years by $1.5 billion in turnpike bond funding that has now run out. Ohio’s 28-cent per gallon gas tax has not been increased since 2005, and industry experts say its value has since dropped 35 percent because of inflation.

DeWine wants recommendations before he introduces his two-year transportation budget in mid-February.

Whatever the plan, it must get buy-in from legislative Republicans who oppose raising taxes.

“We have a pretty conservative caucus that, in general, has focused on cutting taxes,” said Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina. “But we will look at what the revenue situation is and what potential sources are. Obviously the transportation budget is important and is one of the larger economic drivers for the state.”

As more people drive fuel-efficient or non-gasoline-powered cars, the gas tax becomes less effective in the long run, Obhof said.

“In the short term, I don’t think it’s a big deal if we’re just looking for a two-year or a four-year patch, then, at least theoretically, a gas tax could be the right answer,” he said. “But in the long term we need a reliable system of funding that doesn’t decrease as people shift to other forms of fuel.”

Rep. Jim Butler, R-Oakwood, said members understand the importance of transportation infrastructure to Ohio’s economic competitiveness. He wouldn’t comment on the gas tax or other specific options, but said, “There is definitely a desire to arrive at a solution that provides resources for infrastructure in our state.”

Dean Ringle, executive director of the County Engineers Association of Ohio, is part of DeWine’s group and is a member of a new coalition that includes local chambers of commerce, contractors, and truckers, pushing for a gas tax increase and other revenue options.

Ringle is not yet sure how specific the committee recommendations will get, but he’s optimistic it will find some options. Funding for major new road projects averaged $555 million per year from 2014 to 2017, but is estimated to drop to $20 million in 2020, only enough to cover potential cost overruns on projects currently under construction.

“In general, (the coalition) is very pleased that the governor has recognized that transportation is an integral part of meeting his other priorities,” Ringle said. “Just to have him take the interest this quickly speaks volumes about the need for this committee to gather as much information as it can. We’ll see where it goes.”

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WCPO (Cincinnati)

January 29, 2019

 https://www.wcpo.com/news/transportation-development/move-up-cincinnati/would-you-pay-more-at-the-gas-pump-if-it-meant-safer-ohio-roads-and-bridges?fbclid=IwAR0u-SAL8LAZAyA9kf5aqzSEslHzW69SmqCmPY276ugYTNbefpqqhMprIzU

Would you pay more at the gas pump if it meant safer Ohio roads and bridges?

By: Pat LaFleur

Would you be willing to pay more at the pump if it meant a new Western Hills Viaduct? Or how about finishing the decade of construction along Interstate 75? Would the extra cost be worth it if it meant less congestion on the Brent Spence Bridge?

Ohio lawmakers and transportation officials are facing a big infrastructure problem. Like, a $1 billion problem.

Budget projections estimate the state of Ohio will have $1.1 billion less to spend on new road and bridge projects in 2020 than it did six years prior in 2014. That means they aren't sure how they'll pay for some new construction projects like the final phases of the Mill Creek Expressway, the Ohio-side approach to the Brent Spence Bridge, and the crumbling, 86-year-old Western Hills Viaduct.

Other approved road and bridge projects across southwest Ohio with uncertain funding include work on the Red Bank Expressway, wrapping up the Interstate 275-U.S. Route 32 interchange, and work on Old State Route 74, among others.

The looming funding shortfall has prompted a coalition to form within the last month -- Fix Our Roads Ohio.

Increasing the "motor fuel user fee" -- that is, a fee added to prices at gas station pumps -- is the first solution FOR Ohio proposed in a report released earlier this month. Other solutions include an alternative fuel vehicle fee -- that is, a fee on electric or other alternative fuel vehicles -- and finding a dedicated funding source for improved public transit that, if executed properly, would reduce the state's dependency on single-occupancy vehicles.

It also has prompted newly-sworn Gov. Mike DeWine to form an advisory council on transportation and infrastructure.

The Ohio state gas tax sits at 28 cents per gallon, lagging behind four out of five neighboring states' gas tax rates. Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania and West Virginia all top Ohio -- Pennsylvania actually charges the nation's highest gas tax rate, at nearly 59 cents per gallon -- while Kentucky trails Ohio at 26 cents per gallon. The last time Ohio increased its fuel tax rate was in 2006.

Ohio was able to avoid this shortfall once before, in 2012, when then-Gov. John Kasich approved bonds issued against turnpike toll revenue, primarily generated in the northeast region of the state. That funding will run out by the end of this year.

That means Ohio needs a new source of money for new road and bridge projects, said Mark Policinski. He heads up the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments, one of several regional bodies responsible for dolling out state and federal grant money toward transportation and economic development projects throughout the Tri-State.

He said an increase in the state's gas tax is just one of multiple solutions that need to be considered together.

"Over the decades, Ohio has found a way to fund its roads and its bridges without relying on the gas tax," he told WCPO. "Other states rely more heavily on it. So, it's just a different philosophy, if you will, in taxing and how you raise money for roads."

Policinski said the bureaucratic process of implementing road and bridge projects needs to be streamlined before Ohio's legislature puts a new funding mechanism -- like an increase in the gas tax -- in place.

"The most important thing that needs to accompany any increase in the gas tax -- and I would argue has to go before we increase the gas tax -- is: How do we streamline the process? The federal process for building infrastructure in this country, though it's been improved recently, is still very inefficient," he said.

Others, though, say boosting the gas tax is Ohio's only option.

"We keep trying to find these alternative funding sources, and they're just not there," said Thomas Balzer, CEO of the Ohio Trucking Association. "The fuel tax is the best source of funding to do this. We prefer a fuel tax increase over tolling. We prefer a fuel tax increase over all the other funding sources that are out there."

Ohio is a big state when it comes to moving goods throughout the country, Balzer said. More than 60 percent of the U.S. population lives within a one-day drive from the Buckeye state, putting Ohio in the nation's top five for receiving and shipping freight. Add Amazon Prime's headquarters in Hebron, Kentucky, to the regional mix, and the condition of the Tri-State's roads and bridges quickly becomes a national concern.

That's why Policinski and others ultimately blame the federal government for failing to chip in on major infrastructure projects like the Brent Spence Bridge.

"The demands on infrastructure are growing dramatically, and the federal government has essentially taken a powder when it comes to dealing with the issue," he said. "By doing so, they put tremendous pressure on the states. States don't have the resources that the federal government does."

The federal gas tax rate was last increased in 1993. Most recently, the federal government extended that rate through 2023 when Congress passed the FAST Act in 2015. FAST stands for "Fix America's Surface Transportation."

As for how this could affect prices at the pump, AAA Cincinnati spokeswoman said any gas tax increase would roll out incrementally.

"If a gas tax enactment does come for Ohio, consumers will not immediately feel the impact. Most retailers phase it in over time," she told WCPO. "You won’t see, oh my gosh, you’re paying 10 cents more today than last week. It will be phased in over time."

For Policinski, the lack of money for roads and bridges is a matter of public safety.

"The real issue is on our safety. So these are very powerful, negative impacts by Washington simply walking away from the problem," he said.

All through 2019, stay with 9 On Your Side for special coverage of topics dealing with growth and transportation. We're calling it "Move Up Cincinnati." We have a team of reporters covering this topic on-air and online at WCPO.com.

 

 

Piqua Daily Call

January 29, 2019

https://www.dailycall.com/opinion/columns/52810/bridging-the-gap-of-ohios-infrastructure

Commentary: Bridging the gap of Ohio’s infrastructure

William “Bill” Lutz - Contributing columnist

Two weeks ago, Ohio’s brand-new, governor, Mike DeWine, took the oath of office in the statehouse. On hand witnessing the ceremony was Mr. DeWine’s newest colleague, Gov. Matt Bevin of Kentucky. During his remarks, Mr. DeWine remarked that he and Gov. Bevin need to work together on some notable projects, most notably the Brent Spence Bridge in Cincinnati.

For the uninitiated the Brent Spence Bridge is the bridge that takes Interstate 71 and Interstate 75 traffic across the Ohio River. The bridge, built in 1963, is one of the busiest bridges in the country. Roughly $417 billion of goods and services cross that bridge every year, along with 160,000 motor vehicles each day, even though it was designed to only carry 80,000 vehicles.

And for anyone who has travelled the bridge, it’s an adventure. Four lanes of traffic each way, no emergency lanes, and travelling north the signage is poor, at best. And the traffic … many times the traffic on the bridge is backed up for miles. On more than one occasion, I have been known to cut across and take the Interstate 471 bridge back and forth across the river.

So, when Gov. DeWine and Gov. Bevin get together to try to tackle one of the nation’s largest infrastructure struggles, Gov. DeWine is going to be coming with one additional challenge. There isn’t much money in the state’s transportation piggy bank.

Preliminary data from the Ohio Department of Transportation shows that in their fiscal year 2020 and 2021 budget plan, most of the state’s transportation dollars are going to go to simply maintain what exists. There is no flexibility to add capacity or new infrastructure. Add to this that the state’s Turnpike Bond program is about to expire, and we are quickly in a position where our state’s transportation capital program has been cut by nearly 30 percent from fiscal year 2014 to fiscal year 2020.

And the problem is exacerbated by the fact that traffic congestion and poor transportation infrastructure is a cost that we all bear. According to the Texas Transportation Institute’s Urban Mobility Scorecard, Ohio drivers spend over 201 million hours in traffic congestion. In terms of dollars and cents, congestion costs the average Daytonian $590 a year in lost wages, wear and tear on a vehicle, gasoline, etc. Remember the bad traffic on the Brent Spence Bridge? Traffic congestion costs the average Cincinnatian $989 a year.

So, what’s a new governor to do? He’s faced with huge infrastructure problems that are not getting better and decreased resources to help fix the program.

Fortunately, the state of poor transportation has not fallen on deaf ears. A strong coalition of business and government folks are coming together to help begin the conversation on the state of Ohio’s roads. This newly minted coalition, Fix Our Road Ohio, or FOR Ohio, has brought together Ohio’s small villages, large cities, townships, counties, chambers of commerce, business leagues and other organizations to shine a light on the poor state of our state’s transportation infrastructure.

FOR Ohio has put together a comprehensive and cohesive list of policy options that should at least get a fair hearing at our statehouse and get the conversation started on how to get our state’s infrastructure back on track. The list will provide options to increase the state’s fuel tax and options to have it grow with inflation; currently Ohio has one of the lowest fuel tax rates in the Midwest. Other options look at how to deal with alternative fuel and electric vehicles as well as providing new opportunities to provide for public transit with dedicated funding.

On its face, no one likes the idea of increased taxes. But, I would venture to guess far fewer people think our state’s transportation infrastructure is in an acceptable condition. In addition, our infrastructure is already costing our individual drivers and commuters hundreds of dollars a year as it is.

Groups like FOR Ohio are important to help bring attention to an important economic issue in our state. Our state leadership would be well advised to give this group the opportunity to share their issues and give their policy options an opportunity to be discussed and debated.