Last Friday, March 11, 2011, Ohio Department of Transportation released a long-awaited report, "Financial and Policy Implications on Assuming Primary Responsibility for All State Routes Throughout Ohio Regardless of Local Government Jurisdiction" (at this time, the study is not yet up on the ODOT website). This report originates from a 2009 request from legislators of the 128th Assembly. In 2009 it came to the attention of state senators and representatives that cities and towns in Ohio are financially responsible for the repair of all roads—including state routes—within their boundaries. Unincorporated areas, like the rural townships in Morrow County and urban townships, like West Chester, do not have to pay for the maintenance of state routes; instead ODOT covers the repairs and fees. This arrangement has had the unintended effect of producing roads that are full of potholes in a city but are smooth and well-repaired immediately beyond a city’s boundaries.
The same intersection on the edge of Youngstown. Heading North on Market Street, State Route 7, into Youngstown, the street is potholed and patched over.
Headed South, through the same intersection into Boardman Township, Market Street is smoothly paved.
Having learned of this discrepancy, in 2009, legislators mandated ODOT to study the cost of maintaining all state routes in Ohio. In effect, legislators wanted to know how much more it would cost if ODOT took responsibility for state routes in cities and towns, not just townships and unincorporated areas, as it does currently.
What ODOT concluded in its study is that current funding models would inadequately fund service to new areas. Greater Ohio has also analyzed ODOT’s budget and does not disagree that ODOT has limited resources to fund new construction and repair obligations.
However, Greater Ohio believes ODOT, as it stands, barely has any resources to fund new or existing maintenance, period. ODOT is currently funded with “state gas tax” dollars which takes 28 cents for each gallon of gas purchased. As we trade in Hummers for Hondas and more and more alternative fuel cars come on line, state gas tax revenues are decreasing. ODOT itself anticipates a $1.5 billion deficit by 2017 if current income trends and project levels continue.
Moving forward, ODOT will have to find alternative revenue streams if it is to repair any roads—in cities and villages, or outside of them. As Greater Ohio has suggested in recent House and Senate hearings on ODOT’s budget, a thorough audit of ODOT may very well turn up millions of dollars, as similar audits have done in Virginia ($600 million in immediate savings) and Idaho ($30 million in one-time savings over five years, and $6 million annually thereafter). Prioritizing maintenance of existing assets before the construction of new capacity will save money, as will funding new projects based on their return investment potential and should not favor one mode over others.
Greater Ohio will continue to closely monitor the transportation budget bills as they move through the General Assembly and offer, as appropriate, alternative funding models which will lead to sustainable, economically-competitive, transit development.