ODOT’s Budget Priorities Should Reflect Need for Public Transportation
Alex Highley, GOPC Project Coordinator
As Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) Director Jerry Wray observes, Ohio’s transportation network serves a vital role in allowing Ohioans to get to their place of work. In ODOT’s press release from this past April, Wray noted that Ohio’s transportation network “is Ohio’s most valuable man-made asset” and “gives us the ability to move goods to market, get to work, [and] take our children to school.” However, underinvestment in public transportation in Ohio means job and healthcare access is limited for many people throughout the state, particularly for those who do not own or cannot afford a car. As recent research has shown, employers around the state are struggling to find employees who can reliably get to work every day. In northeast Ohio, for example, about 25% of the population does not own a vehicle, while a recent survey finds that employers believe sub-par attendance and an inability to arrive at work on time are the primary obstacles to new employee success.
For FY2018 and FY2019, appropriations for public transportation in Ohio amount to just over 1% of combined ODOT and General Revenue Fund transportation spending. As shown in Figure 1 below, the state appropriates $39.5 million in total on public transportation annually (this figure combines GRF public transportation dollars of $6.5 million annually with Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) “flex” dollars of $33 million annually). Total net transportation spending in the ODOT and GRF budgets amounts to over $3 billion for the next two fiscal years.
As discussed in detail in the first blog of this series, there is a growing need for public transportation among many rural and urban workers in Ohio. Respondents of a 2012 ODOT survey further emphasize the need for expanded multi-modal transportation options. The survey revealed that the majority of its respondents believe the department should prioritize providing “additional transportation options such as public transit and bicycling (60%) as compared to 40% who thought it was more important to focus on making it easier for automobiles to get where they want to go.”
Additionally, ODOT’s 2012 survey found that 77% of residents and 79% of leaders wanted Ohio in the next 5-10 years to focus on improving existing, congested roads, versus 20% of residents and 21% of leaders who wanted to prioritize building new roads. Focusing solely on preserving the existing highway system would save the State money and free up funds for public transportation. Yet, a large share of capital spending has been spent on new projects according to ODOT’s FY2017 Annual Report.[ii] As illustrated in Figure 2 below, ODOT has spent less than three-quarters of its total capital program dollars on “System Preservation” and “Local Preservation” in every year except one (2012) since 2000. In ODOT’s press release, Director Wray claims that “90 cents of every dollar we’re investing this year is to take care of what we have,” yet as shown in the graph below, “Major / New” projects have recently represented well over 10% of total capital spending.
In conclusion, to ensure that businesses around the state have an adequate workforce that can reliably arrive to work each day, Ohio should realign its spending patterns to boost support for public transit. Transit serves as one of many vital modes of travel for Ohioans, and therefore the state budget should reflect its importance to connecting candidates with job opportunities and employees with job sites.
Akron Beacon Journal. “ODOT plans nearly 1,000 road and bridge projects statewide this year”
Fund for Our Economic Future. “Job Access”
Ohio Legislative Service Commission. “Transportation – HB 26”
Ohio Legislative Service Commission. “Main Operating – HB 49”
Ohio Department of Transportation. “ODOT 2012 Statewide Customer Preference Survey.”
Ohio Department of Transportation. “2017 Annual Statement.”