MEDINA – A $3 billion infusion of funds from the sale of Ohio Turnpike bonds may not be enough to solve a road funding problem in Northeast Ohio.
This summer, public officials announced new revenue from the sale of Turnpike bonds would help advance dozens of long-stalled road improvement projects in the region including the widening of North Court Street in 2015.
However, most of the new Turnpike revenue is being dedicated to stalled projects designed to expand road capacity and does not address maintenance issues, which pose another challenge for cities and counties in the region.
“The Turnpike money is going to help complete some new road projects in the region, but it’s not doing much to help us maintain the roads we already have in place,” said Medina County Commissioner Steve Hambley.
Hambley is one of the county’s delegates to the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency which distributes federal road money throughout the region. A recent NOACA report on road conditions in the region indicates drivers in Medina and neighboring counties are encountering some big bumps along the way.
The region contains about 670 million square feet of roadway on the federal aid system. That includes all state highways and some county roads as well. About 33 percent of that total is not in good repair, according to NOACA. Furthermore, only about 20 percent of the road surface in need of repair will be addressed in the Transportation Improvement Plan for 2014-2017.
The resulting backlog in road maintenance funding in Medina County alone is estimated at about $160 million. About $109 million of that total is needed for major road rehabilitation projects in the county.
Among those roads deemed in need of major rehabilitation include U.S. Route 42 from Medina to Strongsville, state Route 3 from Medina to Interstate 71, state Route 252, sections of Greenwich Road, as well as West Street in Wadsworth and Hadcock Road in Brunswick.
Hambley said NOACA hopes to address the issue by introducing a new asset management policy next year which places greater emphasis on maintenance and long range planning.
“Historically, asset management has been a critical, but under-represented and under-funded element of the transportation planning process,” NOACA Executive Director Grace Gallucci stated in a letter to Hambley. “Thus, asset management will be a new effort in NOACA’s overall work program in 2014.”
According to Hambley capital investment strategies for roads is now a priority for NOACA in order to tackle the region’s backlogged federally aided road projects. A new asset management program has been implemented that includes a report on pavement conditions. This will help them identify the roads that are in very poor condition to work on first. They have been encouraged to take the “fix it first approach” — to fix existing roads before they expand them into other areas.
Keeping roads in good shape is also a concern of the Ohio Department of Transportation which has also been struggling to find the funding necessary to keep up with demand.
The Columbus Dispatch reported that Ohio’s interstate system is among the busiest in the country, absorbing billions of miles of wear and tear each year. But the pace of cash flowing into state coffers to pay for highway upkeep hasn’t kept up with traffic levels, and some say that funding should go to alternative modes of transportation.
Income from Ohio’s 28-cents-a-gallon gas tax pays for road repairs, highway expansions and other maintenance, but increased costs, inflation and shrinking consumption have depressed purchasing power and revenue.
State officials have been trying to respond to the problem without raising the gas tax. About $1.5 billion in bonds against future Ohio Turnpike revenue are being used to pay for major highway projects in northern Ohio, and the legislature has asked for a report on alternatives to the gas tax.
But the state’s roads are still deteriorating. A report card issued this year by the American Society of Civil Enginewers graded Ohio’s road network at a “D.”