By Susan Tebben
Despite poor attendance, the Ohio Turnpike Commission went ahead with a public hearing explaining the reasons for increases in toll rates for the turnpike.
The commission is having three public hearings on a proposal to implement changes to the schedules of tolls, the first of which was Wednesday at the Boardman Township Administration Building.
In April, the commission adopted a resolution to authorize public notice of the hearings regarding the proposal to change the tolls starting Jan. 1, 2014, continuing on an annual basis through 2023.
“The proposed adjustments to the toll rates are necessary as the Ohio Turnpike Commission performs its role in implementing Gov. John Kasich’s Ohio jobs and transportation plan,” said Jerry Hruby, commission chairman, in a prepared statement before the public hearing.
If the commission approves the toll increases, the prices will go up 2.7 percent every year through 2023. The percentage is an estimation of the future inflation rate, said Richard Hodges, commission executive director.
The proposed rates for a full-length trip along the turnpike in a class 1 vehicle — low two-axle vehicles and motorcycles — will go from the current rate of $16.50 up to $17 in 2014 and will increase until 2023, when the cost will be $21.50, according to numbers presented by Marty Seekely, commission chief financial officer and comptroller.
But those who travel 30 miles or less and use the E-ZPass payment method will see their rates — while already slightly less than non- E-ZPass payments — frozen over the next 10 years.
Joe Balog, vice chairman of the commission, said the freeze ensures that a person who uses the turnpike daily to go to work and return home is not penalized.
The commission will issue $1.5 billion in turnpike revenue bonds over the next “several years.” Hruby said the bond proceeds will be used to fund infrastructure projects, including an initial $70 million that will “accelerate the commission’s mainline pavement reconstruction program.”
In order to go ahead with the plan, the commission decided turnpike tolls needed to be raised to pay for increased operating costs and debt-service payments over the next 10 years, Hruby added.
The other public hearings will be Monday at the municipal building in Maumee and May 20 at the Ohio Turnpike Administration Building in Berea.