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Ohio Turnpike may fund road work

– Highway and bridge construction projects put on hold a year ago for as many as two decades will be sped up under a proposal to use the Ohio Turnpike to raise as much as $3 billion for roadwork.

And it will be done without huge toll increases or giving away control of the turnpike, Gov. John Kasich said Thursday.

The plan comes two years after Kasich first floated the idea of getting more money out of the northern Ohio route that links the East Coast with the Midwest, suggesting Ohio follow the lead of other states and cities that have pocketed cash for their toll roads.

County leaders along the turnpike objected loudly to leasing the turnpike, fearing that a private operator would eliminate jobs, spend less on maintaining the road and impose higher tolls that would drive traffic onto local routes that meander through small towns.

“People need to understand we’ve listened to them,” Kasich said. “This turnpike will remain a valuable asset, and we will be able to unlock value in this turnpike for decades to come.”

The proposal centers on raising $1.5 billion through bond sales backed by future toll revenues. Up to an additional $1.5 billion could be generated by matching local and federal funds.

Nearly three dozen multimillion-dollar road projects slated for the coming years were put on hold or delayed significantly last January because the state’s transportation department said there just wasn’t enough money.

The turnpike financing plan, which will need legislative approval, would erase a $1.6 billion highway budget deficit, Ohio Transportation Director Jerry Wray said.

“We are going to move 20 years of projects into six years,” he said.

Most of the new money – perhaps 90 percent – would be spent on projects in counties in the northern third of Ohio, primarily those north of U.S. 30. That also would free more money to spend in the rest of the state, backers of the proposal said.

Currently, all of the tolls and the sale of gas and food fund the maintenance and operation of the route, which stretches 241 miles.

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