A two-year, $7.8 billion transportation budget bill for the state of Ohio is headed to the governor’s desk. The budget relies on revenue from the state’s fuel tax, the federal highway fund, and turnpike tolls.
The state Senate voted on Wednesday, March 29, to approve a compromise version that includes provisions of interest to truck drivers. House lawmakers acted earlier in the day to sign off on changes made by a conference committee to settle differences between the two chambers.
Passage at the statehouse clears the way for the bill to move to Gov. John Kasich’s desk. The governor can approve the 454-page bill without changes or he can use his line-item veto authority to nix any provisions he does not like.
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 $124 million is earmarked for local road and bridge improvements.
House lawmakers sought an additional $48 million for local projects. However, ODOT officials voiced concern the allotment could result in the state losing millions in federal matching dollars.
Sen. Charleta Tavares, D-Columbus, is among the lawmakers critical of the omission for local work.
“By removing the provision that would increase revenue to the Local Transportation Improvement Fund, we are failing once again to assist local governments,” Tavares said in prepared remarks.
Counties would be permitted to charge an additional $5 plate fee for road and bridge projects without seeking voter approval. Fee increases, however, could be challenged via a ballot referendum.
HB26 would also introduce new traffic management techniques that are intended to enhance traffic flow on certain 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 bill would authorize ODOT to set variable speeds on Interstate 90 in Cleveland, I-670 in Columbus, and I-275 in Cincinnati.
Included in the final version is a two-year pilot program in Clinton, Franklin, Lucas, Mahoning, 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.
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