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CRAWLUMBUS, OHIO: Years of Neglect Have Left the Buckeye State In a Deep Infrastructure Hole

Like many Rust Belt states, Ohio has countless needs when it comes to infrastructure repair. The roads are heavily traveled and covered in snow and salt for a decent part of the winter. As infrastructure funding has become a national issue, Ohio has been viewed as a prime example of the scar that years of infrastructure neglect can leave. Earlier this year, President Obama squared off against GOP Majority and Minority leaders, Mitch McConnell and John Boehner, over the condition of a bridge that traverses their home states of Kentucky and Ohio. But as the Buckeye State Blog shows in a post about local government taking action on behalf of the infrastructure needs of their municipalities, Ohio’s current roads and bridges pickle is cumbersome and complex:

The Brent Spence Bridge that carries I-71 and I-75 across the Ohio RIver is deteriorating and is going to need a multi-billion dollar replacement. The Innerbelt reconstruction in downtown Cleveland is proceeding with the first step, replacement of the rickety bridges that carry I-90 across the Cuyahoga River valley, under way. In Columbus, re-construction of the interchanges between I-70 and I-71 has commenced, in an $800 million construction project so massive, and with so many lane closures, detours, and orange barrels, that it’s referred to as “Crawlumbus.” In Toledo, the “Systems” interchange between I-75 and I-475 is in need of re-construction, as is the Central Interchange in downtown Akron between I-77, I-76 and State Route 8.

Like many states, the fact that the national gas tax has not gone up since 1993 hurts funding for local infrastructure projects. States have to raise their own gasoline taxes, as Massachusetts has long debated, however unpopular the decision may be. But Ohio has not done so since the Taft administration. Since then, inflation has eaten up almost a third of the raised revenue.

The question of how to approach such a massive problem has caused clashes in Cleveland where Mayor Frank Jackson is at odds with the state’s Department of Transportation (DOT):

So, what is Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson’s beef with ODOT? Well, City Hall’s highest proirity transportation project in Cleveland right now is not one that would keep a rickety bridge from falling down, but rather, for aesthetic purposes. Mayor Jackson wants to turn the West Shoreway, a 50 MPH freeway that carries US Routes 6 and 20 and State Route 2, into a 35 MPH boulevard, providing pedestrian access, bike paths, and a more pleasant atmosphere to allow Clevelanders to enjoy the lakefront. A worthwhile project, to be sure, and that’s why ODOT committed $50 million to it in the middle of the last decade. But now, most of that money will be spent on a single aspect of the project: an underpass under the Norfolk Southern RR tracks to allow residents of the newly rebuilt Battery Park neighborhood access to the lakefront. The cost for this underpass has ballooned from $15 million to $34 million, and now there won’t be enough funds left over for the rest of the project. Jackson wants $28 million more from ODOT to finish the job. Given the financial difficulties it faces, ODOT has predictably told the city to go pound sand, leading to a lot of bitching from Cleveland City Hall.

The author of the Buckeye State blog post, Nick D, has a simple albeit unilateral solution for the Mayor:

My challenge to Mayor Jackson is this: Quitcherbitchin, and figure out a way between the city and the county to fund this project yourselves. If this region waits for ODOT to solve all of its problems, it’ll be waiting a long time. When the City of Columbus wanted improvements made to the interchange between I-71 and Polaris Parkway, it didn’t wait for ODOT to fund it, it cut ODOT a check for the cost and told them to go build it. Maybe the City of Cleveland could commit to spending 1/4 of its income tax revenue on capital improvements the way Mike Coleman has? What about Cuyahoga County, with its highest in the state sales tax? Could 1/4 of those revenues be committed to capital improvements?

It’s time to get creative, Mr. Mayor. Columbus has plenty of its own troubles. If you wait for them, you’ll watch Cleveland’s infrastructure deteriorate further. Quitcherbitchin and get to work.

Pro-privatization actors in Ohio have been ” target=”_blank”>pursuing the sale of the Ohio turnpike as a potential revenue-generator for quite some time:

The sale or leasing of the Ohio Turnpike is not a new idea. Some believe that the 385.6km James W. Shocknessy Ohio Turnpike could bring in new revenues for local infrastructure repair. Governor John Kasich and Jerry Wray, director of the Ohio Department of Transportation, are now researching options to help fund infrastructure works in the state that have not so far been fully considered.

But highway privatization has proven tricky in neighboring states like Indiana where $209 million was lost in 2010 on their privatized tollway deal.

There is no easy solution for a problem that has been brewing for decades other than to accept the fact that it will almost certainly take decades to correct. A dedicated effort to quitcherbitchin might not hurt either.


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