Republicans support Kasich's Ohio turnpike plan, Democrats object

by MARC KOVAC | CAPITAL BUREAU CHIEF Published:

Columbus -- The Republican leaders of the Ohio House and Senate voiced support for Gov. John Kasich's plan to leverage funding for road and bridge projects from the Ohio Turnpike.

"I think it's very innovative," said outgoing Senate President Tom Niehaus, from New Richmond.

"It allows the people in northern Ohio that depend on that turnpike for their economic vitality and their livelihood to continue to benefit from it," Niehaus said.

Statehouse Democrats, meanwhile, voiced their objection to the proposal, calling it a hostile takeover and a shell game.

"This is a partisan plan to raid assets of the turnpike for political gain," said Rep. John Carney, a Democrat from Columbus.

"… It's clear that this is a political ploy designed to create a re-election year slush fund so that he may go around the state and hand out things to folks who are in need," Carney continued.

Kasich unveiled the plan during stops in Toledo, Cleveland and Youngstown, capping months of speculation and a multi-million-dollar study on the pros and cons of different options.

The 241-mile route is Ohio's lone toll road, accommodating more than 50 million vehicles annually.

Kasich's plan would maintain state ownership of the turnpike, meaning no lease or sale to a private entity. The state would borrow about $1.5 billion, via bonding against tolls, and hope to leverage another $1.5 billion in local and federal funding for use in construction projects.

More than 90 percent of new bond money would go to roadwork in the northern third of the state.

"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.

Statehouse Democrats were blunt in their initial analysis.

Rep. Kathleen Clyde, a Democrat from Kent whose district includes two turnpike exits, said the plan could "threaten not only the turnpike's quality but also result in layoffs, increased drive times and less reliability."

She added, "also jobs along the turnpike from service plazas to local communities could be threatened if we change the road from the current formula that works so well for northern Ohio."

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief. Email him at mkovac@dixcom. com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.

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