by MARC KOVAC | CAPITAL BUREAU CHIEF
Columbus — A consumer advocacy group concerned about the potential privatization of the Ohio Turnpike wants Gov. John Kasich’s administration to answer a series of questions before making such a decision.
“We are very wary, because we have seen situations in other states [that have privatized their turnpikes] where it very much was not in the public interest at all,” said Tabitha Woodruff, an advocate for Ohio Public Interest Research Group, or PIRG. “… We’re very skeptical of any plan that might move forward.”
Kasich and other state officials have long discussed the possibility of leasing the Ohio Turnpike as a means for providing an funding for repair, maintenance and new road construction. The governor has said that at least half of the proceeds from any such transaction should go to road and bridge projects north of U.S. Highway 30, as well as for covering the costs of projects along the turnpike and for public transit systems.
Kasich also has said repeatedly that he will not move forward with the privatization if it isn’t in the best interest of the state. Before the end of the year, the administration is expected to unveil the results of a multi-million-dollar study outlining potential options.
“What we know right now is that Ohio’s transportation budget shortfall is in the billions,” Steve Faulkner, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation, said in a released statement. “We cannot afford to bury our head in the sand and hope that the problem magically solves itself. Instead, we must identify and seek out alternative funding solutions that allow us build our infrastructure, improve our economy and create jobs.”
But in a report released by Ohio PIRG Nov. 15, the group asks about whether private operators would have the power to raise tolls, what cost-saving measures were anticipated and whether the privatization agreement would come with restrictions or requirements affecting improvements to other public roadways.
Any agreement would require lawmaker action, and some Statehouse Republicans are not supportive.
“I remain strongly opposed to the privatization of the Ohio Turnpike,” Rep. Mike Dovilla, a Republican from the Cleveland area, said in a released statement. “The sale or lease of our state’s 241-mile toll road to an entity that would very likely be foreign-owned, would have many unintended — but easy to predict — consequences that outweigh any supposed benefits. These negative impacts include the veritable certainty of higher tolls, decreased maintenance, personnel layoffs and the diversion of commercial vehicles on to local roadways that cannot accommodate increased traffic volume.”
Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.