Cost of Ohio Turnpike study increases to $3.4M


BEREA, Ohio (AP) -- The cost of studying the Ohio Turnpike's future has increased to $3.4 million after the state approved payments for two law firms consulting on the issue.

The state Controlling Board initially approved a $2.85 million study to help determine how the 241-mile toll road can be used to best benefit Ohio financially, but it has since approved $550,000 more for the two law firms, The Plain Dealer in Cleveland ( ) reported Monday.

Turnpike Executive Director Richard Hodges defended the study's cost, saying it is a bargain in comparison with toll revenue and the potential benefit for the state. Tolls are expected to hit a record $249 million this year, and Gov. John Kasich would like to use them to generate hundreds of millions of dollars for transportation projects, mostly in northern Ohio. Some of those projects face long delays because of a lack of funding.

The study team led by Texas-based KPMG Corporate Finance LLC will advise the state by the end of the year on a variety of options. Some options under consideration would include leasing the turnpike to a private operator, maintaining public ownership and operation, or using a mix of public ownership and private operation.

Some northern Ohio leaders do not want major changes to the turnpike. They fear that privatizing it would lead to toll increases and poor maintenance and could cause truck traffic to use toll-free roads, making them less safe.

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, a Niles Democrat, said money allocated to the turnpike study would be better spent in other areas such as early childhood education.

"We're blowing money on a firm from Texas to study this stuff," Ryan said.

He said the turnpike is well run and that it doesn't make sense to have the possibility of increased tolls and less service to turnpike drivers while Ohio is trying to be a more competitive business environment.

But Hodges says the study is appropriate.

"They are looking at spending an amount that's 1.5 percent of our annual revenue, for a comprehensive study that has never been done in 60 years," he said.

The turnpike now operates entirely on its own revenue. It had $11 million in profits last year, and Hodges believes millions more can be found through savings and other methods.

The Ohio Department of Transportation and Kasich have said that any deal to privatize the turnpike could be structured to cap toll increases and provide adequate care and improvements to the road.

But elected leaders from six northern Ohio counties said in February that they are opposed to leasing the turnpike and would do their own analysis. Their study would look at toll-road leases nationwide to see how they affected tolls and surrounding communities, said Matt Carroll, chief of staff to Cuyahoga County Chief Executive Ed Fitzgerald.


Information from: The Plain Dealer,

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