Kasich announces turnpike will be not be leased outWritten by Brigitta Burks | News Editor | BBurks@toledofreepress.com
After months of concern from Northern Ohioans, Gov. John Kasich announced Dec. 13 in Toledo that he was not pursuing leasing out the Ohio Turnpike. Rather, he unveiled a plan to generate about $3 billion for highway road construction.
Kasich’s idea, deemed the Ohio Jobs and Transportation Plan, would generate $1.5 billion from bonds issued by the Ohio Turnpike Commission, backed by future toll revenue. Down the line, an additional $1.5 billion could be created through matching federal and local funds.
“It’s stunning to me this hasn’t been done in the last 20, 25, 30 years. And this plan does not involve, of course, selling the turnpike,” Kasich said at the announcement at Modern Building Supply in Toledo. Toledo is the first stop on a two-day tour throughout the state for Kasich.
The announcement came after a yearlong study done by KPMG. In the past, Kasich has touted the possible benefits of privatizing the turnpike, but recanted at his announcement.
“If we leased this, we probably would get more money potentially. But we would paying a premium of losing control and I think people’s concern about losing control is very legitimate. If I’d have thought it wasn’t legitimate, I wouldn’t have taken it into consideration,” he said.
His plan, which he expects to go before the legislature as part of the Transportation Bill in February, states that 90 percent of new bond money would go to Northern Ohio projects. However, Kasich and the Ohio Department of Transportation Director Jerry Wray said that specific percentage was not fixed and projects will be evaluated case by case.
The plan also stipulates that no turnpike employees will be laid off and an additional 65,000 jobs could potentially be created. Tolls for local trips (below 30 miles) made with an EZ pass are frozen and other toll raises are capped by the rate of inflation.
Rick Hodges, Ohio Turnpike director, praised this aspect of the plan.
“Over the last 10 years, toll rates have increased by an average of 7 percent per year, and I don’t know of any private business that has been able to do that,” he said during the announcement event. He added that day-to-day operations would stay the same.
In addition, the Ohio Turnpike Commission would remain independent, but be renamed the “Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission.”
Wray said a couple of people will likely be added to the commission. Like several of the speakers, he stressed a need for partnership.
“The Ohio Turnpike is not an island. No one ever started or ended their journey on the turnpike. The turnpike is a part of Ohio’s transportation system,” Hodges said.
The plan enables getting projects done more quickly, Wray emphasized.
“This is about time. It’s about getting things done now rather than later. That’s the main currency of the Department of Transportation,” he said, adding that the plan allows for 20 years worth of projects to be potentially done in six. These projects could include the Interstate-75/475 interchange repair project.
Mayor Mike Bell also spoke at the announcement event.
“I appreciate everything you’re doing. I appreciate your no-fear factor. I gotta have somebody else I can look at in the state that has that no-fear factor,” Bell told the governor.
In a statement, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur, who has spoke out against privatizing the turnpike, said, “It appears as if the people of Northern Ohio have achieved their first victory in our efforts to preserve the Turnpike as an asset for northern Ohio’s economic growth.”
“Of course, the devil is in the details, and we look forward to evaluating the full report so as to assure that the Turnpike’s future will not be bled to outside sources in any manner that jeopardizes northern Ohio’s economic growth potential.”