State Sen. Gayle Manning has offered amendments to a bill approving the sale of $1.5 billion in bonds leveraged by the Ohio Turnpike to guarantee the money raised will largely be spent repairing roads in Northeast Ohio and to free the tolls that E-ZPass users pay for short trips on the toll road.
The bill is expected to go to a vote in the Ohio Senate sometime this week.
When Gov. John Kasich announced the plan to sell bonds leveraged by future revenue from Turnpike tolls, he made promises about where the money would be used and about freezing the tolls for E-ZPass trips of 30 or fewer miles.
But when the bill was written, it included neither of those provisions — something that rankled many state leaders from Northeast Ohio.
Manning, a Republican from North Ridgeville, chairs the Ohio Senate Standing Committee on Transportation, which oversees state funds for construction and improvement of Ohio roads and highways. The Turnpike bill landed in her lap after it was approved by the Ohio House of Representatives.
Fellow state senators whose districts border the Turnpike, as well as constituents of those areas, have voiced their support for getting both items back into the bill, Manning said Monday.
“We’re the ones who have paid for this Turnpike,” Manning said.
Steve Faulkner, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation, said earlier that Kasich intended to keep his promises regarding the Turnpike, but noted that setting percentages and fixed dollar amounts could restrict how state transportation officials use the money.
Manning’s amendment pledging 90 percent of bond sale proceeds for transportation projects within 75 miles from the Turnpike would limit funds to areas above U.S. Route 30, which runs across the northern part of the state from the Indiana border through Mansfield and Canton.
Manning and other legislators were frustrated over wording in the bill that sought to define the geographic area within which Turnpike bond sale revenues could be used.
“We were told it would be based on a nexus, and we went round and round on that,” Manning said. “Nexus means nothing to us. We needed something stronger.”
A nexus is defined as “a connection or link associating two or more people or things.”
Legislators, including state Rep. Mat Lundy, D-Elyria, were concerned that the term could be interpreted to allow money to ultimately go toward road projects in other parts of Ohio located near interstates or other roads that link with the Turnpike.
The second amendment freezes tolls for E-ZPass users for trips of 30 miles or fewer through 2023.
Any attempt to raise tolls outside of the 10-year freeze on E-ZPass users would have to be approved by the Turnpike Commission, of which Manning is a non-voting member, and include a series of public hearings in communities adjacent to the Turnpike.
A freeze on non-E-ZPass Turnpike tolls was discussed, according to Manning, but it was decided such a move could adversely affect bond rates that determine the amount of interest to be paid over the life of the bonds.
The $1.5 billion bond sale is to be part of a $3 billion state highway and roadwork funding package that would see an equal $1.5 billion generated through matching local and federal funds.
The Senate is also considering bumping the speed limit on interstates 90, 77 and 71 from 65 mph to 70 mph outside urban areas.
The Turnpike raised its speed limit from 65 mph to 70 mph in 2011.
The Senate Transportation Committee is expected to hear testimony today and consider further amendments before it votes.
“Hopefully it will pass out of committee to be on the (full Senate) floor Wednesday” where the entire bill could be voted on “by Thursday at the latest,” Manning said.
House and Senate versions of the bill likely will go before a conference committee to iron out differences prior to the measure going back to the governor for his approval.
Contact reporter Steve Fogarty at (440) 329-7146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.