Canton Repository

July 30, 2005

Bill gives billions to Ohio roads

By Paul M. Krawzak
Copley News Service

WASHINGTON — Ohio roads, bridges and mass transit will gain more than $7.5 billion during the next five years from a long-delayed highway bill, which also includes millions of dollars in congressionally earmarked projects for Stark and Tuscarawas counties.

The funds are part of a $286 billion, multi-year transportation reauthorization that Congress approved overwhelmingly Friday.

Locally, the bill reserves more than $20 million for specific highway and bridge projects in Stark County, and more than $8 million for transportation improvements in Tuscarawas County.

Gov. Bob Taft praised the legislation, saying it would “help us continue to ease freeway congestion, improve road safety and connect Ohio’s rural regions.”

Sen. George Voinovich, R-Ohio, who helped shape the measure as a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, called it the “best” transportation bill the state has ever had.

The landmark legislation is projected to create more than 20,000 jobs in Ohio through 2009, when it expires, according to Voinovich.

Federal funding for the state breaks down into $6.6 billion for highways, bridges and related projects, and $859 million for public transportation.

Overall funding is about 30 percent higher than what the state received from the previous transportation authorization, which expired in 2003, officials said.

Highway funding to the state will total about $1.3 billion a year, an increase of about $300 million, or 36 percent, over the last highway bill.

Voinovich fell short in one of his goals — increasing the state’s return on gasoline taxes it sends to Washington to 95 cents on the dollar. But the bill does increase Ohio’s return to at least 92 cents by 2008, up from 90.5 cents at present.

The legislation includes millions of dollars reserved for local projects by Reps. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, Bob Ney, R-St. Clairsville, Voinovich and Sen. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio. The bill as a whole has an estimated $23 billion in earmarks, which some critics call wasteful pork.

Although most of the projects in an earlier House version of the bill have survived, Regula shifted funds from one project to supplement federal spending on another project in Massillon.

At the request of county officials, Regula cut $800,000 in funding for improvements to Alabama Avenue in Tuscarawas Township and redirected the money to rehabilitate the Tremont Avenue Bridge over the Tuscarawas River in Massillon.

Regula’s office said asbestos was discovered in steel beams supporting the bridge, and that without replacement of the beams the bridge would have to be closed.

As a result, the bridge project, which was expecting $720,000 in federal funding, now will get $1.2 million. The Alabama Avenue project, which included repaving and widening between Elton Street North and Wooster Street, will not receive any federal funds.

Regula’s earmarks in an earlier House bill were cut by 20 percent from their original amounts to accommodate Senate projects, he said.