It's no joke: Rural highway speed limits in Ohio raised to 70 mph

by Marc kovac | Capital Bureau Chief Published:

Columbus -- Gentlemen (and women), start your engines.

In about three months, you can drive 70 mph on rural stretches of Ohio Interstate highways without fear of getting pulled over for speeding.

And you may cruise along on smoother and/or wider surfaces, as construction crews get to work on backlogged road and bridge projects, thanks to an infusion of bond and other funds leveraged using the state's lone toll road.

The increased speed limit, $3 billion in turnpike-related monies and some $7.6 billion in regular funding for the Ohio Department of Transportation and several other agencies were signed into law April 1 by Gov. John Kasich and will take effect in July.

The governor signed House Bill 51 during ceremonial events in suburban Cleveland and Columbus, flanked by lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle, union groups representing construction workers and logistics and other companies that rely on Ohio roadways.

"We absolutely are making history today, and we will look back on this with better roads and more workers and we're going to be able to feel like we really accomplished something," Kasich said. "And we did it with both parties working together, with business and labor united. We keep doing this, and Ohio will be the best state in the country."

HB 51 increases speed limits on interstate freeways outside of cities to 70 mph from 65 for all vehicles, retains a guarantee that 90 percent of anticipated turnpike-related bonds will be used for road projects within 75 miles and connected to the state's lone toll road, and institutes a freeze on passenger vehicles traveling 30 or fewer miles on the turnpike.

The final bill did not include a proposed income tax credit for turnpike users subjected to toll increases higher than the rate of inflation. Members also blocked a House effort to increase weight limits for trucks on state highways to 90,000 pounds from 80,000 pounds.

Kasich let stand all of the lawmaker-approved provisions of the legislation except one: He used his line-item veto power to strike language mandating ODOT reimburse railroad companies for maintenance of roads within their rights-of-way.

Many Statehouse Democrats, however, continue to oppose the transportation budget and the policy changes to be instituted in coming months.

"The governor signed into law a plan for the Ohio Turnpike that will saddle the state with $1.5 billion in new debt, drive up tolls for many commuters and businesses, and drain the road of the resources needed to maintain quality and safety," state Rep. Chris Redfern, who also serves as chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party, said in a released statement.

"While Kasich's friends and cronies may benefit from the governor's use of the turnpike as his own election year slush fund, those paying tolls will ultimately lose out on this shell game," Redfern added.

But Kasich and other supporters countered that the final bill received bipartisan support and was backed by business and union groups.

"It's amazing how many people, even during this debate, were talking about the need for infrastructure but proposed nothing in terms of an alternative to what we're doing today," said Sen. Randy Gardner, R-Bowling Green. "... We have something that not only helps northern Ohio but lifts this entire state."

The governor later added to reporters, "I know there's always going to be some doom and gloom cast over things when good things happen, [but] we're going to have over 65,000 jobs created once all this gets done."

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief.

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