By Sean Barron
Mahoning County commissioners have adopted a resolution opposing Senate Bill 224, which would allow the state to privatize the Ohio Turnpike.
Commissioner Anthony T. Traficanti said during Thursday’s meeting that the bill, sponsored by former state Sen. Kevin Coughlin and endorsed by Gov. John Kasich, would do little to ease the state’s projected $4 billion budget shortfall.
“Taking Ohio’s largest asset and using it for short-term financial gain is not the answer to balancing the state budget,” Traficanti said.
Selling or leasing the 241-mile turnpike to a private entity likely would remove cost-control measures as well as a ceiling capping toll increases. In addition, the commissioner said, it would provide no guarantees that the road, built in the 1950s, would continue to be well maintained.
Such a plan also likely would put many trucking companies statewide out of business while greatly increasing traffic on secondary roads, he predicted. It also would negatively affect interstate commerce, Traficanti continued.
Larry Davis, president of the Columbus-based Ohio Trucking Association, also expressed concern regarding where money generated from a privatized turnpike would go.
Davis recalled an 80-percent increase in turnpike tolls during the mid-1990s that caused many truck drivers to use alternate routes. The OTA worked with the governor’s office to reduce the tolls and increase the speed limit to 65 mph, which returned most of the drivers to the turnpike, he explained.
Davis also noted that tolls along the Indiana Turnpike have increased 101 percent in the five years since that road was placed in private hands.
Nevertheless, motorists traversing the state via the turnpike likely will see toll increases in a few months.
Jerry Hruby, turnpike commission chairman, has indicated that tolls will go up starting Jan. 1, adding that the increases were budgeted for and are needed.
When the change occurs, drivers with an E-ZPass electronic toll system traveling the entire length of the highway will pay $11.25, up from $10.25. Truck rates will be considerably higher.
In other business, commissioners heard a presentation from Scott Lewis, director of the Big Reach Center of Hope in Greenford.
The 22,000-square-foot center, established in 2004, has provided food and clothing to about 55,000 people in need, most of whom live in Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana, Portage and Stark counties, Lewis noted, adding that the facility helps between 1,300 and 1,400 families per month.
Lewis also discussed a Hope 100 plan, which calls for 100 people to donate $50 a month to Big Reach, 11767 Lisbon Road.
The director announced a kickoff event to begin at 10:30 a.m. Nov. 16 at the facility to assist families, children and senior citizens during the holidays.
Also at the session, county Engineer Richard A. Marsico announced that Four Mile Run Road between Henricks and Crum roads in Austintown will be closed Monday through next Friday for a culvert replacement.