The Ohio House acted last week to approve a two-year, $7.8 billion transportation budget that includes provisions of interest to truck drivers. The budget works as a spending blueprint.
The main component in the governor’s budget bill provides $6.7 billion to the Ohio Department of Transportation for infrastructure projects and public safety programs. About $125 million is earmarked for local road and bridge improvements.
House lawmakers voted 83-13 to advance the budget bill, HB26, to the Senate. The budget relies on revenue from the state’s fuel tax, the federal highway fund, and turnpike tolls.
Gov. John Kasich’s budget would also introduce new traffic management techniques that are intended to enhance traffic flow on state highways and keep traffic moving during rush hours via variable speed limits and hard shoulder running.
“It has been proven that during high periods of demand on roadways, a temporary, slower speed limit results in a smoother and more even flow of traffic,” ODOT Director Jerry Wray testified during a recent hearing on the bill.
Ohio now uses variable speed limits only in school zones and highway work zones.
The budget bill was amended in committee to remove concerns about “expansive” language on speeds.
Tom Balzer of the Ohio Trucking Association said the introduced version of the bill allowed the ODOT director the ability to regulate speed by type of vehicle.
“There is no limitation to only reduce speed limits, so in theory the ODOT director could increase the speed limits in the name of congestion mitigation,” Balzer testified.
A change made in committee would prohibit a variable speed limit based on a particular type or class of vehicle.
The budget bill would also permit ODOT to turn highway shoulders into an additional lane during rush hour on all or portions of Interstate 670, Interstate 90, and U.S. 33.
“We plan to test this concept on I-670 here in Columbus beginning in 2018,” Wray said.
Included in the bill is a provision to establish a Division of Freight within the state DOT. The division would be responsible for “facilitating and coordinating multi-modal transportation to maximize the efficiency of and opportunities for the transportation of freight in Ohio.”
In addition, a two-year pilot program would be set up in Clinton, Lucas, Montgomery and Stark counties to reduce commercial vehicle registrations from $30 to $15. The Registrar of Motor Vehicles would be required to study the effect of lowering the fees.
Affected vehicles would still pay a registration tax based on vehicle weight, any local motor vehicle registration tax, and an administrative fee.
The transportation budget bill was not passed without criticism. Rep. Kent Smith, D-Euclid, said while he voted in favor of the bill he views it as falling short of meeting the state’s real transportation needs.
“This is a highways bill, not a transportation bill, for it doesn’t improve Ohio’s dismal level of public transportation funding.”
The bill awaits assignment to committee in the Senate. The target date to get the bill through the statehouse and to the governor’s desk is April 1.
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