February 28, 2002
U.S. budget cuts may halt I-77 widening
By PAUL M. KRAWZAK
Copley Washington correspondent
WASHINGTON — President Bush’s proposed federal highway budget for next year threatens up to 17 highway construction projects,
including the widening of Interstate 77 in Canton, Gov. Bob Taft said Wednesday.
Emerging from a meeting with the state’s congressional delegation, Taft said Ohio risks losing “60 percent of our new construction
program unless Congress increases the level of funding in the (president’s proposed) budget.”
Bush has proposed distributing some $23 billion in highway funds to the states next year, down more than $8 billion from the original
authorization. Unless that is changed, Ohio will receive $234 million less than the roughly $950 million that was expected, Taft said.
Because highway maintenance takes precedence over new construction, Taft said the state would make up the difference by
delaying or eliminating some of the construction projects set to begin in 2003. Those projects will cost a total of $424 million.
Next year’s projects include the third and fourth phases of a $250 million widening of Interstate 77 in Canton between Routes 30 and
241. The state is widening the interstate to six lanes. The third phase, costing $19.5 million, would widen a two-mile stretch between
Orchard Park Street and Belden Village Street. The fourth phase, costing $38 million, would widen a 2.7-mile section between Belden
Village Street and Applegrove Street.
The proposed reduction in highway spending results from a drop in revenues from federal gasoline taxes, which is partially a
consequence of the economic slowdown. When less revenue is collected for the federal highway trust fund, less is distributed to
Taft’s top priority in meeting with the delegation was to push for more highway funds. The governor said there’s an “excellent
chance” that Congress will restore at least $4 billion of the proposed $8.6 billion cut.
Legislation has been introduced in both the House and Senate to add $4.4 billion in funding to the president’s request.
Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Madison, who sits on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said the extra spending
would come from a surplus in the highway trust fund. Rep. Bob Ney, R-St. Clairsville, is among Ohio lawmakers who have
co-sponsored legislation to add the funding, LaTourette said.
Taft said even if Congress adds $4 billion, Ohio would end up with $120 million less than it expected, meaning cuts would be
Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, expressed confidence that the planned work on I-77 will be spared even if other cuts are
“I think they’re too far along, and the fact they are so far along is evidence of their commitment,” he said. “I’m confident that the
project is going to stay on track.”
Taft also urged lawmakers to revise the federal government’s highway funding formula, which he said returns 88 cents to Ohio for
every $1 in federal gasoline taxes that Ohio sends to Washington.
That would most likely be attempted next year, when the existing, six-year federal transportation authorization expires and faces
Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, who met with Taft, wants to “boost the amount of money that Ohio receives for highway projects from
the federal gas tax revenue,” his spokesman Wes Irvin said.