The ongoing effort to relocate and extend the U.S. Route 30 expressway will soon have a major breakthrough or a demoralizing setback.
Stark County Commissioner Richard Regula and MS Consultants business development representative Tony Urankar made an unusually timed pitch Wednesday morning in Columbus for $70 million in state funding from the Ohio Transportation Review Advisory Council. About $59 million would go to construction and $11 million to cover utility relocation and any remaining purchases of property or paying for temporary access to property. TRAC had already allocated at least $8.5 million for preliminary engineering and design.
"We need your help to help keep the project moving forward," Regula said.
Local government and business leaders have been talking for years about extending the four-lane highway from Canton to state Route 11 near Lisbon in Columbiana County. The four-lane section turns into a two-lane winding road heading east from Canton.
Officials recently have focused on building a new three-mile section of highway from the Trump Avenue interchange to a new state Route 44 interchange, bypassing the center of East Canton.
An $18 million federal grant available for that three-mile extension is in jeopardy because of a September deadline for committing the money.
TRAC usually does not approve funding for projects until December. But it's considering the Route 30 request as part of a new "off-cycle" application policy due to the impending expiration of the grant.
The TRAC voted unanimously to consider the funding request, without making a commitment.
While Ohio Department of Transportation Director Jack Marchbanks, who chairs TRAC, said the vote “sends a signal to those who are in the private sector who can contribute to this project that TRAC is prepared to do its part, given these dollars come in.”
He said the council, which next meets June 22, could hold an emergency meeting to vote next month.
Federal money must be committed by Sept. 30
Regula and Urankar were representing the Regional Transportation Improvement Project, established in 2016 by Stark, Carroll and Columbiana counties.
Urankar said the federal money must be committed by Sept. 30 to extending the expressway to Route 44. The construction is estimated at more than $100 million.
It would take an act of Congress to extend the deadline again. Congress had already extended the deadline by a year due to the pandemic.
The Federal Highway Administration expects all the funding for the three-mile portion to be committed and lined up by June 30, Urankar added. He's scheduled to meet with federal highway officials June 6 for a project update.
The problem is with less than a month before the June 30 deadline, most of the money required to fund the three-mile extension has not been lined up.
Lining up financial commitments has been difficult
TRAC member Chris Kershner, of southwest Ohio, said he would like to see more funding commitments by other governmental entities and private partners before he would support more TRAC funding for U.S. 30.
"My pushback is not because I don't see the economic need for the project. My pushback is i think we need some additional time and to see how things play out," he said.
In a video presentation to TRAC, state Sen. Kirk Schuring, R-Jackson Township, said he had a voluntary commitment of $100,000 annually (for 10 or 20 years) from a local company he did not name. That total of $1 million to $2 million, which could be borrowed and then later repaid with voluntary payments by the company, is short of the minimum $10 million in voluntary assessments the local RTIP group is seeking.
But Schuring said he had positive meetings with two other businesses with a presence in Stark County. He also said he is set to meet with an Amazon executive on June 15 to discuss the company contributing toward the project.
Amazon is working to establish a warehouse and shipping facility on the former Skyland Pines golf course in northeast Canton.
In addition, consultants based in Washington, D.C., will be meeting with two or three investors in Canton on June 3 to discuss investing in the extension, Schuring said.
Schuring later said he would not identify the companies and investors until they signed a letter of intent.
Urankar told TRAC that the investors aren't interested in investing unless the expressway is extended all the way to Route 11.
Regula said that the money needed from TRAC might be less if the local group can obtain more than $10 million in voluntary assessments.
"This number can go down," he said. "We’re not stopping. We’re continuing our efforts to obtain more money.”
Regula also told TRAC that local officials are lobbying Ohio's two U.S. senators and the area congressional members for an extension of the federal grant deadline.
Regula's brother, David Regula of Bethlehem Township, is one of TRAC's eight members.
"I think we need to take a really strong look at funding this. This portion (of U.S. 30) that goes through East Canton is a nightmare by any means, shape or form," David Regula said. "We have 20% of this budget going away if we don't use it. It would be a tremendous waste of resources."
Originally published by Robert Wang with The Repository.