A two-year, $7.8 billion transportation budget bill for the state of Ohio is headed to a legislative conference committee. The budget relies on revenue from the state’s fuel tax, the federal highway fund, and turnpike tolls.
The state Senate voted unanimously on Wednesday, March 22, to approve an amended budget bill that includes provisions of interest to truck drivers. House lawmakers voted 88-0 to reject Senate changes to the bill.
Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, said the bill would make Ohio a more attractive place to do business.
“This bill makes critical investments in infrastructure, improving roads and bridges throughout the state of Ohio,” Obhof said in prepared remarks.
The main component in the budget bill provides $6.7 billion to the Ohio Department of Transportation for infrastructure projects and public safety programs. About $172 million is earmarked for local road and bridge improvements – up $48 million from the House-approved version.
Counties would be permitted to ask for local voter approval for an additional $5 plate fee for road and bridge projects. The House called for leaving the decision to county commissioners.
HB26 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.
Removed from the bill on the first go-around in the House were concerns about “expansive” language on speeds.
Tom Balzer of the Ohio Trucking Association said the original version of the bill allowed the ODOT director the ability to regulate speed by type of vehicle.
The House later changed the bill to prohibit a variable speed limit based on a particular type or class of vehicle.
The Senate-approved version would set variable speeds at 10 separate locations on roadways throughout the state. House lawmakers called for changes on specific parts of Interstates 670 and 90, and U.S. Route 33.
Also removed from the bill in the Senate was 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.”
A separate provision nixed by Senators called for setting up a two-year pilot program in Clinton, Lucas, Montgomery and Stark counties to reduce commercial vehicle registrations from $30 to $15.
Senate lawmakers kept a provision to require the Registrar of Motor Vehicles to study the effect of lowering the fees statewide.
The latest version includes a provision to benefit the state’s largest trucking operations. Specifically, registration fees would be reduced by $5 to $20 per vehicle for operations of at least 10 trucks.
Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, said the bill takes steps to spur growth in the trucking industry.
“Reducing commercial vehicle registration fees will spur economic growth and support the creation of potentially thousands of jobs.”
Included in the bill is permission for the Bureau of Motor Vehicles to send electronic notices for vehicle registration renewals upon request.
Also contained in the bill is investment in smart corridor technology for self-driving vehicles on select highways.
The budget now heads to a conference committee made up of select lawmakers from each chamber to work out differences. The final version would need chamber floor votes in favor before it can move to the governor’s desk.
The target date to get the bill through the statehouse and to the governor’s desk is April 1. If lawmakers fail to meet the deadline the state will not be able to start spending the money by July 1.
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