Bill could move road project forward

LISBON – Local officials are hoping a proposed bill might provide a way to generate enough money to help move the U.S. Route 30 project forward.

Columbiana County Commissioner Mike Halleck, speaking at this week’s board meeting, said he heard at a County Commissioner Association of Ohio meeting recently that a bill introduced by state Rep. Kirk Schuring could benefit the Route 30 project.

Introduced on March 18, House Bill 494 would allow county commissioners in two or more counties to create joint regional transportation improvement projects (RTIP) for the purpose of obtaining funding to complete transportation projects.

RTIPs would provide commissioners with several options to generate local funding for projects, such as selling bonds, tax breaks, creating toll roads or asking voters to approve an increase in the local license plate tax.

“It would give boards of commissioners more options for funding infrastructure projects,” such as Route 30, Halleck said. “They’re just trying to think outside the box because dollars are scarce.”

County Engineer Bert Dawson said transportation improvement projects, or TIPs, have been around for a while but could only be used to raise funding for transportation projects within one county. What Schuring’s bill does is allow for the creation of regional TIPs for transportation projects that involve more than one county.

In that respect, Route 30 would seem to be an ideal RTIP project to undertake, should the bill pass. Officials have been trying for decades to turn the last remaining section of Route 30 into a four-lane freeway from Canton in Stark County to state Route 11 in Columbiana County, a distance of about 40 miles.

State funding for highway projects is based on the Ohio Department of Transportation’s TRAC scoring system, and the Columbiana County portion of Route 30 fails to qualify for any major money, although $500,000 was recently allocated to further study what other improvements could be made, short of turning it into a freeway.

In January, ODOT announced $1.7 million was being made available to continue with the design efforts for extending Route 30 from Trump Road in Canton to state Route 44 in East Canton. No funding has been allocated for converting this two-lane section into a freeway, which would cost an estimated $80 million.

Although this would advance the project, Dawson noted that Route 44 is still seven miles away from Columbiana County. “It will be forever until they get it to Columbiana County,” he said.

Schuring’s RTIP bill might be a way for Columbiana and Stark counties to raise money jointly for the Route 30 project and possibly qualify for ODOT funding since one of the criteria under TRAC is the level of local participation.

The price tag for the project remains the largest obstacle: It would cost between $800 million at last estimate to turn Route 30 into a four-lane freeway from Canton to Route 11. Officials looked into building it as a toll road, but an ODOT study determined tolls higher than currently charged for the Ohio Turnpike would still only generate half of the needed funding.