By christine keeling
Fifty people turned out Wednesday and spoke out against the privatization of the Ohio Turnpike during a town hall meeting at Boardman Administration Building.
The meeting was sponsored by state Rep. Ronald V. Gerberry of Austintown, D-59th, and was attended by community and union members, as well as other local lawmakers. It was the second in a series of Turnpike Town Hall meetings taking place across the state to discuss the 241-mile toll road.
“I think [Gov.] John Kasich is hellbent on selling or leasing the turnpike,” said Gerberry. “The only way to change his mind is to let him know there’s a public outcry.”
Kasich is seeking to sell or lease the turnpike for 50 years for an estimated $3 billion.
Gerberry was joined on the panel by state Reps. Bob Hagan of Youngstown, D-60th, Sean J. O’Brien of Brookfield, D-65th, and Kathleen Clyde of Kent, D-68th, and state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Canfield, D-33rd, all of whom opposed Kasich’s plan.
Bob Pegg of Boardman said he drives the turnpike and isn’t happy about the automatic-payment system or the idea to sell it.
“I think they’re going to mess things up,” he said.
Other audience members were concerned about an increase in tolls, disrepair of roadways and increased truck traffic on city streets if a lease or sale were to happen.
Many cited their experience driving on a neighboring state’s turnpike after it was leased.
“The Indiana Turnpike has potholes galore,” said one audience member.
Clyde said its tolls have risen 400 percent to 500 percent.
One person who said he was representing General Motors Lordstown expressed concern that higher tolls would increase shipping costs and make the plant less competitive.
Who would buy or lease the roadway also raised concern.
Austintown Trustee James Davis said he is worried how a decrease in traffic from higher tolls would affect restaurants and hotels on state Route 46 and their employees.
Jobs also were on the minds of the many turnpike personnel who showed up to speak out about the proposal.
O’Brien likened Kasich to a “Wall Street raider” and warned the governor would try to privatize lottery and liquor sales next.
Hagan warned that lawmakers are selling pieces of the state while voters remain complacent.
He urged people to rise up, start petition drives and walk the streets.
“That’s the slap to the face the governor needs,” said Hagan. “Issue 2 needs to go down.”
Gerberry said he thinks selling or leasing the turnpike is a bad idea.
“Selling an asset that the people of Ohio have bought and to destroy the quality of that asset” is bad public policy, he said.
Gerberry said he would do everything he could to stop the proposal and even introduced HB 213, which would prohibit a sale or lease from happening.
He didn’t know. however, if a hearing would take place before a sale or lease was complete.