Funding changes will put new projects on hold, an official said.
By SHERRI L. SHAULIS
VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Although almost half of Ohio's roads are considered to be in good condition, Ohio Department of Transportation officials acknowledge it will take a little work and planning to keep them that way.
According to a recent analysis by The Road Information Program, close to 1,000 of 2,326 miles of roads in Ohio's major metropolitan areas are rated "good." Analyzed were interstates, state and national highways and local streets.
Founded in 1971, TRIP is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., that gathers and interprets data voluntarily from state agencies regarding roads and bridges. Much of the data for the Ohio analysis came from ODOT and the governments of major municipalities.
Lorain-Elyria ranked first in the state with 58 percent of its roads in good condition, and Columbus came in second with 51 percent. Rounding out the top five spots were Akron with 48 percent, Youngstown-Warren in fourth place with 45 percent, and Dayton with 44 percent.
Cleveland had the lowest percentage of good roads, with 33 percent rated "good."
Funding decrease likely
Though it's good news that so many Ohio road surfaces are in good condition, ODOT officials are focusing on keeping them that way. It may not be easy, as funding changes will affect not only what ODOT tackles, but when it takes on projects.
"Because of changes in the federal budget and in tax revenues, our funding is likely to go down next year," said Jack Noble, a structure and pavement planning engineer for the state. "Our work on system preservation will be the same, but new projects may have to be put on hold.
"It's not at a point where it's really a problem yet, though," he said.
Federal funding for the nation's road maintenance and construction was refigured in 1998; under the six-year plan, which expires in 2003, $218 billion is provided annually for highway and transit programs. Of that amount, $162 billion is committed to national highway programs. To improve conditions, though, funding must increase an additional $27 billion per year, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Instead, current congressional proposals call for reducing federal highway funding to the states in 2003 by 10 percent to 15 percent, or $3 billion to $5 billion.
According to the Ohio Construction Information Association -- a group of citizens, businesses and associations concerned with the condition of Ohio's public roads -- funding decreases and traffic increases could mean problems that could not be solved by ODOT's merely putting new projects on hold.
Without increases in funding, ODOT will be forced to defer maintenance on "an already less than satisfactory system of existing highways and bridges," the group says on its Web site.
Noble acknowledges that increased traffic is having an effect on conditions of Ohio's roads.
"In some cases, roads are getting as much as three to even six times the traffic they were designed for," he said.
According to OCIA, traffic has increased on Ohio's interstate highways by 38 percent in the past 10 years. In urban areas, the group states, roads designed to last 20 years are reaching the end of the service life in just 111/2 years.
"The growth rate has been especially bad in regard to large trucks," Noble said.
But, he noted, ODOT has made a substantial effort in the last five to 10 years to improve road conditions statewide, which will help roads last through upcoming budget changes.
"Right now we are trying to equalize the state," he said. "We are working to normalize all the roads throughout the state so we don't have pockets of bad roads here and there. And that's what we will continue working on."