Ohio governor seeks turnpike changes for trucks

| Thursday, August 12, 2004

Gov. Bob Taft on Wednesday called for raising the speed limit and lowering tolls for large trucks on the Ohio Turnpike in an attempt to steer more truckers back onto the roadway.

Truck traffic began spilling over to smaller roads after an 82 percent toll increase took effect in 1999.

Taft wants the turnpike speed limit for tractor-trailers to increase from 55 mph to 65 mph – the limit for all other vehicles. The state’s freeways would continue to have split speeds.

The governor also wants stricter enforcement of truck weights on routes paralleling the turnpike. In addition, he is calling for reduced tolls for trucks on a trial basis. Currently, tolls on the turnpike for large trucks to cross the state are $42.45.

“By moving trucks to the turnpike, we will reduce the truck traffic on these smaller routes, improve safety and shrink congestion levels that often gridlock many of our northern Ohio communities,” Taft said in a released statement.

Taft called on the Ohio Department of Transportation and the Ohio Turnpike Commission to study his proposals and determine by the end of September what should be done and how to pull it off.

Gary Suhadolnik, the turnpike’s executive director, told The Associated Press the commission is likely to approve the speed increases at its next meeting on Aug. 23.

“It will happen in pretty short order,” he said.

Figuring out how to cut the costs for trucks on the toll road will take more time, Suhadolnik said.

He would prefer a fuel tax rebate for truck drivers as opposed to a toll reduction, which would eat into the turnpike’s budget. He said it’s unfair to require a trucker to pay both the fuel tax and the toll while on the turnpike.

A fuel tax rebate, though, would likely come out of the highway department’s budget, which receives the state’s fuel tax income.

Two efforts now before the Ohio Legislature would eliminate provisions in state law that set up a slower speed for vehicles with a gross weight of more than 8,000 pounds. The proposals, however, have remained in committee since their introduction in 2003.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, which has been outspoken on tolling issues and lobbied state lawmakers to approve uniform speed limits, is encouraged by the governor’s effort, said Todd Spencer, association executive vice president.

“I’m glad Gov. Taft has seen the wisdom of recognizing a lose-lose situation for everyone with what’s going on with the speed limits and the Ohio Turnpike,” Spencer said. “Getting drivers off the less safe parallel routes is an appropriate and responsible initiative.”

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