Build it, and they will drive

A theme emerges when one looks at the list of highway projects expected to move from drawing board to construction zone up to a decade sooner than planned. The words “reconstruct, widen and add a lane” are used repeatedly.

The thrust of the work is to alleviate congestion and aggravation on Ohio highways. Call it the reverse Venturi effect: As more traffic is funneled into the same number of lanes, the flow of traffic slows, causing pressure to build among drivers.

It’s important to note the plan touted Monday isn’t meant to catch up on replacing crumbling roadways and decaying bridges. It’s a way to accelerate projects to rebuild interchanges and add lanes of travel.

These plans originally were considered with the knowledge that funding wasn’t adequate to foot the bill for them. ODOT still plans more work than its budget will allow, in case more money becomes available than expected.

Couple that with state and federal government policies which compel people to live in metropolitan areas, and roadway congestion increases in larger cities even though Ohio’s population grew by less than 200,000 from 2000 to 2010.

Because the state can’t go into debt the same way the federal government can, something akin to deficit spending – call it deficit planning – has occurred. Next, money will be borrowed against future Ohio Turnpike revenues to “catch up” on highway projects.

These projects may be crucial to Ohio’s future. Otherwise, residents might tire of traffic congestion and delays, and opt to move elsewhere. But their completion would leave even more lane miles of pavement that must be maintained. And where will the money be found for that?

That’s the question to be resolved as those turnpike bonds are repaid. Meanwhile, taxpayers can find a likely answer staring at them in the closest mirror.