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Tough choices on Ohio roads

February 8, 2012
Salem News

Important highway construction projects in Ohio have been pushed so far back on the state's schedule they might as well not be there at all. That is another in a series of caution lights for Buckeye State residents worried about maintenance of roads and bridges.

Ohio Department of Transportation officials previously had moved some big construction projects back on their schedule. Last week they all but parked some of them.

For example, plans to reconstruct sections of Interstates 70 and 71 originally were planned for implementation in 2014-16. Then ODOT moved the schedule back to 2025-33. On Tuesday plans were bumped even longer into the future, to 2026-34.

Obviously, the problem is money. Ohio doesn't have enough to handle highway and bridge needs. That already has affected day-to-day maintenance - and the problem will only grow worse.

Like many other states, Ohio is suffering from newer cars that get better gasoline mileage. State and federal fuel taxes provide much of the money for road and bridge maintenance in most states, and they are calculated on a per-gallon basis.

In Ohio, the state tax is 28 cents per gallon. Last year Buckye State motorists bought 29 million fewer gallons of fuel than they did a decade ago. That translates to more than $8 million less for road and bridge work.

Now is not the time to raise any tax in Ohio. Too many residents are struggling with their own household budgets. Recovery from the recession is just gathering steam.

As ODOT officials are suggesting, it may be some transportation network improvements will have to be postponed or shelved entirely.

Priorities will have to be set. A new study by the Brookings Institute suggests more ODOT spending ought to be directed to urban areas, with less going to rural regions of the state.

While legislators from big cities may welcome that approach, the state's highway system needs to be viewed as an integrated network in which roads through rural areas such as ours are just as important as those in the cities. Another concern is economic development. The burgeoning gas and oil industry here in East Ohio has infrastructure requirements that should not be dismissed.

That said, priorities will have to be set - as it seems ODOT is doing - to make scarce road and bridge funding go as far as possible.



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