Lower tolls in Ohio; most truckers paying 27 percent less

| 1/3/2005

A large number of truckers heading across the Ohio Turnpike are getting an $11.45 break on tolls thanks to a bill signed into law by Gov. Bob Taft.

The new toll rates took effect Saturday, Jan. 1.

Reductions 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 dropped from $42.45 to $31 – a 27 percent cut.

The lower tolls are a rollback of the increases that took effect in 1999, leading truck traffic to spill over to smaller roads.

The new law – previously HB406 – authorizes the Ohio Department of Transportation to make a one-time payment of $23.4 million to the Turnpike Commission to offset lost revenue that may result from the 18-month trial toll reduction program.

During the next several months, the commission will determine how successful the pilot program has been and what the appropriate ongoing toll rates should be.

Taft sought the toll reduction, along with an increase in truck speed limits from 55 mph to 65 mph along the 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 route has seen large truck traffic increase by about 9 percent.

The new law also allows the commission to decrease toll rates without holding a public hearing.

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

As part of the state’s grand scheme to get truckers back on the turnpike are efforts to provide better service for the professional drivers.

Included in future plans for the route is a large truck stop and service plaza complex for Fulton County to replace two pairs of smaller plazas in northwestern Ohio.

Gary Suhadolnik, the turnpike’s executive director, told The Toledo Blade the truck-stop proposal is in the preliminary stages, and several sites are being considered. But a 2005 budget the commission approved last month includes $1.25 million for site development in Fulton County about a mile west of the state Route 109 interchange near Delta.

The service plazas near West Unity and Swanton are the smallest on the turnpike and among the oldest.

“We need to rebuild the facilities, and we would like to have larger facilities,” Suhadolnik said.

A similar truck-stop plan is in the works for replacing the turnpike’s easternmost pair of service plazas, about four miles west of the Pennsylvania border. But that would involve rebuilding at an existing plaza location, and no facilities would be eliminated.

Dehrmann said the turnpike sent letters out to potential truck-stop operators. Staff are now reviewing the responses.

Starting in 1997, the turnpike rebuilt the four busiest pairs of its service plazas; reconstruction of a fifth set, the Wyandot/Blue Heron plazas at milepost 76.9 in Sandusky County, is under way. The rebuilt plazas have larger truck parking areas and multiple restaurant brands, though except for one “sit-down,” limited-menu restaurant in each center, service is take-away with food-court seating available. The Sandusky County plazas’ food service, however, will be food-court only.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor