Monday, May 7, 2012

Congressional Gridlock Drives Up Ohio Road And Bridge Costs

Lack of future funding – read, Congressional inaction on Highway Trust Fund legislation – will cost taxpayers in just one state, Ohio, $148 million dollars, according to transportation officials there. Last month Ohio Department of Transportation Director Jerry Wray told ODOT’s Transportation Review Advisory Council he needs to cancel the 14 smallest road construction projects on his docket, in order to have cash to pay for highway and bridge repairs needed to keep the state’s roads open due to lack of certainty respecting funding for pavement and bridge replacement projects scheduled in the near future.

Wray’s announcement is the first state highway department report that actually looks at the dollar cost of putting off road and bridge construction over the next decade. The projects Wray wants to scratch off the present list would cost $148 million; that’s the amount he will need for “band aid” repairs to interstates in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus that would have been replaced soon if he could count on $1.6 billion in federal money to pay for the work. According to Wray, some of the replacement projects are now likely to be put off for as long as 18 years, driving up the cost of keeping potholes filled on the aging roadways and bridges. “If you delay these things, you’re going to have more maintenance expenses. That has to be a component of our considerations,” Wray announced to the Advisory Council.

Mark Kelsey, Columbus’ public service director, concurred in Wray’s announcement. “You’re constantly putting band aids on. You’re spending dollars trying to do a short term fix that really requires a long term fix,” he said. According to Cuyahoga County Public Works Director Bonnie Teeuwen, bridge repairs must take budget priority over roads, in an environment where cost considerations put off the replacement of bridge spans already past their predicted design life. “If a road fails, you have a pothole,” she said. “If a bridge fails, you lose lives.”

Although it’s clear that other state transportation officials are busy making comparable calculations regarding which construction projects need to be canceled to pay for repairs that will be needed because a few months of Congressional dithering mean years and years of budget uncertainty for the states, Senators and Congressmen are still putting campaign rhetoric talking points ahead of their obligation as the nation’s leaders to actually do something about this problem.

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