Ohio lawmaker seeks funding to cover turnpike's decrease in truck tolls

| 11/23/2004

An Ohio state legislator has introduced a bill that would allow the state to borrow $23.4 million to subsidize the Ohio Turnpike Commission’s proposed temporary toll reduction for trucks.

Fuel tax revenue, typically reserved for highway work, would go to repay the $23.4 million over the 10-year life of the bonds.

Proposed by Rep. Stephen Buehrer, R-Delta, the bill would also streamline the public hearing process that usually precedes any toll change.

Gov. Bob Taft sought the reduction, along with an increase in truck speed limits from 55 mph to 65 mph along the Ohio Turnpike, as part of a plan to steer trucks off overloaded two-lane roads and back onto the toll road.

Since the speed increase took effect Sept. 8, Lauren Dehrmann, a turnpike spokeswoman, said the turnpike has seen large truck traffic increase by about 9 percent. The 18-month trial turnpike toll reduction and its long-term economic feasibility would be re-evaluated during the trial period, she said.

As proposed, the reductions will vary from about 2 percent for Class 4 trucks to 57 percent for Class 9 trucks.

For Class 8 trucks, the toll to travel the length of the 241-mile route between Indiana and Pennsylvania will drop from $42.45 to $31 – a 27 percent discount – to cross the state.

Buehrer’s proposal – HB582 – could ultimately be added to Ohio’s capital budget, a wish list of school, highway, and other construction projects that is to be voted on before the session ends late next month.

State law now requires at least three public hearings and a public comment period of 90 days preceding toll changes.

The bill would reduce that to one public comment gathering at least 30 days before a temporary decrease lasting 18 months or less would take effect.

“We want to do this as quickly as possible,” commission Chairman Tom Noe told The Toledo Blade. “It’s weird having to hold hearings to decrease tolls. I can understand if it we’re increasing them. If this passes in the lame-duck session, we should be able to hold a meeting in December.”

That means the reduction could take effect as early as January.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor