ODOT report says tolls alone can’t fund U.S. 30

LISBON – Local officials remain optimistic despite a state report released this week that stated turning U.S. Route 30 into a toll road would only generate about half of the $900 million needed to pay for the project.

The Ohio Department of Transportation studied the feasibility of paying for the Route 30 project from East Canton to state Route 11 in Columbiana County by building it as a toll road. The study determined charging motorists 20 cents per mile – four times more in tolls than those driving the Ohio Turnpike – would generate $475 million over 20 years.

This figure was based on an estimated increase in population for Columbiana, Carroll and Stark counties, an estimated increase in employment in the same region over the same period, and an increase in traffic volume over the next 20 years, based largely on the oil and gas boom underway in the region.

However, the report did not take into account interest on the construction bonds or the cost of acquiring the property rights-of-way, operating the toll booths and road maintenance.

The project received a 26 out of a possible 100 points under ODOT’s Transportation and Advisory Council’s (TRAC) scoring system. According to ODOT, other road projects around Ohio have a much higher score based on expected impact on economic development, traffic congestion relief and safety improvements.

ODOT spokesman Steve Faulkner was quoted in another publication as saying the agency is simply unable to afford the project when you look at it strictly from a cost perspective.

Route 30 is a four-lane road from Indiana to East Canton, where it remains a windy two-lane road the final 36 miles across Columbiana County before reaching Route 11. Local officials have been trying since the 1950s to complete the final section.

County Engineer Bert Dawson is a member of the U.S. Route 30 Corridor Committee, which in 2010 asked ODOT to look into the feasibility of funding the project using a toll-road system. Their preliminary review indicated charging a toll and constructing the freeway in three 12-mile phases over time would make it affordable.

Dawson remains undeterred by the ODOT study, saying the state did not close the door completely on the project. “What they really said is it’s not totally feasible to do it all as a toll road, and no one ever thought that would really happen,” he said.

Instead, ODOT envisions the project possibly going forward with local and private money used to help fund the project, and Dawson can see that happening because of two new possible sources of highway funds.

First, the state legislature recently voted for a plan to sell bonds through the Ohio Turnpike to raise $1.5 billion for state highway projects north of Route 30. Secondly, Gov. John Kasich is lobbying the legislature to impose a severance tax on oil and gas drilling, which would could generate billions of dollars in new revenue.

“I think the committee needs to continue meeting to pursue our options,” Dawson said. “There are literally thousands of jobs being created in this area (due to the oil and gas boom), so this project ought to be able to qualify for some economic development money.”