By Marc Kovac
A state panel has signed off on a draft list of road projects, including the expedited widening and bridge replacement on Interstate 80 in Mahoning and Trumbull counties.
Some of the projects will be covered by funding leveraged from future Ohio Turnpike tolls under a plan signed into law by Gov. John Kasich earlier this year.
The Transportation Review Advisory Council’s approval Thursday of $1 billion-plus in project commitments over the next two fiscal years opens the door for public comments, with final action on the list expected in September.
Representatives from the Ohio Department of Transportation met with Girard residents in June to discuss one of those projects, a road-widening and bridge- replacement project; the plan is to widen to six lanes about six miles of Interstate 80, a stretch between the I-680 interchange in Austintown to the Belmont Avenue exit in Girard.
TRAC was created about 15 years ago to review funding and construction timelines for major road projects. Jerry Wray, director of the Ohio Department of Transportation, called the process “good” and “deliberative,” indicating it will result in the right decisions for the use of limited state funds.
“There are tremendous needs all over the state,” Wray said. “And all of the projects that are applied for and that we get requests for have value. They have merit based on safety, congestion, opportunities for jobs and commerce and development. ... However, resources are finite. ... There is not enough money to meet all of those wants and needs.”
The council did not make any changes to the plan unveiled Monday by Kasich during a press conference in Cleveland.
A plan to widen Interstate 80 to six lanes in Mahoning and Trumbull counties, improved transit facilities and access in Stark County and two interstate projects in the Akron area remain among top-tier projects, with construction dates moved up a decade or more thanks to turnpike bonding.
The $116.7 million Mahoning-Trumbull project, for example, was not supposed to start until 2027. Under the TRAC proposal, construction would begin in 2015.
Jennifer Townley, deputy director of planning at the Ohio Department of Transportation, said public comments on the project list will be accepted through mid-August, and TRAC will review submissions before giving its final approval.
Council members also will work with the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission to determine which projects will receive bonding monies. Legislation approved earlier this year requires the turnpike-leveraged funds to be used in the northern third of the state and on projects with connections to Ohio’s lone toll road.