TOLEDO — Ohio's governor wants to use the state's toll road that links the East Coast with the Midwest to raise up to $3 billion for road projects, closing a gaping hole in the state's highway budget.
The proposal means the Ohio Turnpike won't be sold or leased to a private operator — an option that drew complaints about the possibility of higher tolls and job losses for those who work on the toll road that cuts across northern Ohio.
Republican Gov. John Kasich proposed raising $1.5 billion through bond sales backed by future toll revenues. Up to an additional $1.5 billion could be generated by matching local and federal funds.
Kasich says the plan will be accomplished without job losses and while retaining the Ohio Turnpike Commission — renamed the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission — as a public entity.
“This plan just makes sense, as we continue Ohio's economic resurgence, grow jobs, and make our state prosperous once again,” Kasich said in a statement released at a Toledo news conference.
Transportation Director Jerry Wray said the plan will erase a $1.6 billion highway budget deficit.
The pair plans to make additional stops in Cleveland, Youngstown, Columbus, Dayton and Cincinnati to tout the plan over the next two days.
Kasich's plan calls for toll increases capped at inflation for trucks, while freezing toll rates for 10 years on local trips paid for with an EZ Pass.
Ninety percent of the proceeds from bond sales would go to northern Ohio projects, including the turnpike. Diverting toll revenue off the roadway will require lawmaker approval.
The turnpike carries about 50 million vehicles each year across northern Ohio from Pennsylvania to Indiana on what is mostly Interstate 80.
The route, which stretches 241 miles, is funded through tolls and the sale of gas and food at rest stops.
Kasich at first appeared to be intent on leasing or selling the road, but local leaders from counties and cities along the along the turnpike objected loudly, saying they feared a private operator would spike tolls so high that traffic would be driven onto local routes that meander through small towns.
They pointed to the fact that tolls have nearly doubled since investors took over the Indiana Toll Road.
In Ohio, it's now $16.50 for cars making a full trip on the turnpike, which expects to collect a $250 million from motorists this year.
Kasich has maintained that the turnpike is an underutilized asset that can bring more revenue as he is preparing to roll out a new two-year budget early next year.
He initially said the state could get at least $2.5 billion in leasing it and has said the money would pay for work on roads, bridges and harbors without raising taxes. Thursday's announcement came after a KPMG study.