State transportation director warns of road funding crisis

Posted at 10:26 AM, Feb 11, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-11 11:24:48-05

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio's road maintenance and infrastructure are facing an "impending crisis" unless more funding is provided for those types of projects, according to the state's Department of Transportation director.

ODOT Director Jack Marchbanks issued his warning recently before an advisory panel that will make funding recommendations to Republican Gov. Mike DeWine.

Marchbanks said contracts for road maintenance that totaled $2.4 billion in 2014 may drop to $1.5 billion in 2020, and a $1 billion gap remains in the department budget. He said there will be no new roads or other projects in the foreseeable future, and 90 percent of the department's money must go toward road maintenance.

"It is a grim financial situation," Marchbanks said. "It is also a dangerous one."

The director said without more funding to fix the state's roads, more crashes will happen.

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Col. Paul Pride, superintendent of the State Highway Patrol, has said road conditions — including maintenance issues and inclement weather — contribute to about a third of highway fatalities.

Years of flat revenue from the gas tax, debt payments and increased highway construction costs have all contributed to the financial situation, Marchbanks said.

Former Republican Gov. John Kasich and lawmakers approved $1.5 billion in short-term transportation funding in 2013. However, that money was either spent or committed.

"There is a level of borrowing that's responsible, and we're not saying ODOT won't borrow funds in the future," Marchbanks said. "But we've loaded on too much debt."

He said ODOT already is spending $390 million each year to pay for prior borrowing against future gas-tax revenue.

Jim Aslanides, a member of the advisory panel, described that debt number as "very startling."

Aslanides, president of the Ohio Oil & Gas Association, said the "public, for the most part, needs to be educated about this."

The governor and lawmakers are considering an increase in the gas tax. The state's 28-cent-per-gallon gas tax has not been increased since 2005, and it is lower than all neighboring states except for Kentucky.

Marchbanks said he will not make any recommendations, but the department estimates that increasing fees on electric and hybrid vehicles would raise about $2.5 million each year.

Increasing the gas tax by 1 cent would bring in about $67 million per year, Marchbanks said.

DeWine is expected to present his two-year transportation budget proposal to the state General Assembly this month.