Ohio has one of the largest and most active transportation systems in the US. The state has the second largest inventory of bridges, third largest freight in volume, and fourth largest interstate highway system. In terms of total vehicle miles traveled, Ohio is sixth in the country.
The transportation system has a direct effect on the state’s economy as well as the quality of our lives. With that said, extreme growth in both population and economic development are causing our roads and bridges to experience increased demands. With increased demands, congestion is worsening, causing our roads to deteriorate. According to a 2018 report from the TRIP transportation research group, 30% of Ohio’s major roads are in poor or mediocre condition.
As Ohio’s transportation infrastructure continues to age, the state is facing a shortage of funding to fix it. One major reason for this is the Ohio Turnpike Bond program ending June 2018. As of right now, the state has no reliable or long-term transportation solutions developed for the future. If action isn’t taken soon, roads and bridges will only continue to degrade, to a point of disrepair, causing further congestion and dissatisfaction.
The state needs to find creative ways to deal with the costs of fixing its crumbling roads, but what are some long-term, sustainable options?
WHAT CAN BE DONE
Governor Mike DeWine has named an Advisory Committee on Transportation Infrastructure to study current conditions of roadways and to find solutions for maintaining and enhancing the state’s transportation infrastructure.
One option being explored is the seemingly obvious solution of increasing the tax on gasoline, which is currently 28 cents per gallon. In comparison to the rest of the country, Ohio’s fee currently ranks 29th in the nation and is a significant amount lower than bordering states like Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Indiana.
Since the gas tax collection system is already in effect, raising the fee in response to inflation would not require lawmakers to continue making changes over time. Is raising gas taxes the only solution to this problem?
TURNPIKE TOLL CHANGES
Raising tolls on the Ohio Turnpike is another possible solution that could definitely raise money for Ohio’s transportation infrastructure. In 2013, the Ohio Turnpike borrowed $1.35 billion to pay for non-Turnpike Ohio Department of Transportation projects.
According to the Turnpike’s current payment schedule, this bond won’t be paid off until around 2048. To cover those loan payments, a series of toll increases of 2.7 percent a year for 10 years were approved. At the end of the 10 years, the compounded amount will reach a 31 percent increase in tolls.
Raising the cost of tolls again may be difficult to sell to the public, but it’s still an option. Instead of increasing the price of passing through a toll, another possible solution could be to add more toll roads. This has been discussed as a possible long-term option for decades, but there hasn’t been much advancement in regards to that idea. Both of these options would allow the state to raise additional money to improve transportation infrastructure but public pushback must be considered.
ALTERNATIVE FUEL FEES
Currently, the state collects about $1.8 billion each year from its gasoline tax, but that total hasn’t really changed over the course of the last 10 years. On top of collecting gasoline taxes, the state could introduce special fees for electric and hybrid cars.
With the advent of alternative fuel vehicles, there is a very large amount of motorists using the roads that do not contribute to the maintenance and construction required for such roads due to not paying or paying a lower gas tax.
According to Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) Director, Jack Marchbanks, a $75 a year fee for hybrid vehicles and a $250 a year fee for electric vehicles would raise an additional $2.5 million each year. A relatively small price for users to pay could seriously help the State’s transportation infrastructure issues in the long-term, making this an attractive solution.
PAY PER MILE
Another viable option would be to charge drivers by the miles driven. Essentially, this would make every road a toll road.
In fact, some Oregon drivers are already paying by the mile. The state began a voluntary program in 2015, called OReGO, which allows drivers to pay by the mile instead of by the amount of gasoline they use. Currently, about 1,800 drivers are involved with the program, being charged 1.7 cents per mile and receiving refunds for the gas taxes that they pay.
A device is plugged into the car’s computer system that measures exact miles driven and amount of gasoline used. Drivers with GPS-enabled devices are not charged for out-of-state miles and those without GPS-devices can request credits when out of state. According to OReGO spokeswoman, Michelle Godfret, the point of the program was to prove that it could be done and to make legislature consider options for making such programs mandatory.
Other states have tested such systems with pilot programs with the goal of gathering information to accurately assign miles driven in multiple states. If perfected, programs like OReGO being implemented throughout the country could be a great way to fund transportation infrastructure issues.
THE NEXT STEP
What direction will legislators choose to go to try to solve our issues surrounding transportation infrastructure? For the time being, it looks like the most likely option may be an increase in gasoline taxes.
The transportation budget must be approved by March 31, making a change of policy a timely matter. Soon enough we will know what’s in store for the future of Ohio’s transportation system.
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