Turnpike revenue detoured to other roadways

This summer has brought a fundamental change to the status of the Ohio Turnpike. No longer is it a stand-alone venture.

Monday, the turnpike commission authorized the sale of $1 billion in bonds to fund highway projects in Ohio. The bonds would be paid by 2.7 percent toll increases annually for 10 years.

Until now, tolls had paid for maintenance and operation of the 241-mile road through northern Ohio. The system may have worked too well; the toll road now is an asset to be leveraged for funds to improve highways elsewhere in the state.

Concerns about this approach are understandable; something similar happened to Ohio liquor profits, now used – indirectly, yet undeniably – to fund JobsOhio, the economic development agency privatized by Gov. John Kasich.

Is this a trend? Yes – at least as far as funding maintenance and repair of state’s roadways and bridges.

A big problem is the cost of asphalt and steel keeps rising, but revenue from the gasoline tax does not. Newer automobiles are squeezing more miles out of every gallon. That’s especially true for ones that run on electricity or gas.

That’s why the state’s 28-cents-per-gallon gas tax wasn’t raised to generate funds for road work. In fact, some states are looking at replacing the gas tax with other sales and excise taxes, such as higher taxes on new vehicles, fees on hybrids and electric cars, and levies on miles driven.

Yes, the turnpike wasn’t broken, so it didn’t need to be fixed. Yet, toll revenues are to be detoured to fix the state’s transportation infrastructure.

The real risk is whether the tolls will follow the pattern of postage stamp price increases, with higher costs resulting in lower usage which, in turn, leads to higher fees.

But if annual toll increases don’t chase traffic onto other roads, and the state transportation department makes efficient, effective use of the added funds, the loss of the turnpike’s independence may seem like a worthy trade.