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Ohio lawmakers approve $13.5 billion transportation budget

Orange barrels and a sign mark road construction on the I-270 outerbelt in Columbus.
Karen Kasler
/
Statehouse News Bureau

The two year, $13.5 billion Ohio transportation budget is on its way to Gov. Mike DeWine for his signature, with a nearly unanimous vote in both the Ohio House and the Senate. The vote came two days before the budget is required to be signed and in place.

Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) wanted to talk about the transportation budget with reporters after the vote to pass it, saying, "We've passed this budget on time and in fact, a day or two early - before 3:00 in the afternoon, you're welcome."

Stephens said he was pleased a conference committee was able to work out differences on limits on force accounts, which specify how local construction project dollars can be allocated. Democrats and some Republicans raised concerns about changing force accounts and the effect that would have on unions.

The final deal increases the monetary threshold for force accounts by 133%, and those limits can go up each year based on ODOT's construction cost index, though those annual increases are capped at 5%.

Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) said after the vote he wasn't thrilled with the outcome but, "if it didn't come out completely the way I would want, but I think it substantially answers most of the questions. I know that the townships in municipalities and counties are very happy."

It’s the first change to force accounts in 20 years.

The budget also includes $3.6 billion for the huge Brent Spence Bridge project in Cincinnati, a feasibility study for passenger rail and some rail safety provisions that rail companies said are unconstitutional.

The transportation budget doesn’t include a $1 billion rural highway fund in the House version. Stephens had wanted the highway fund for rural road projects funded with surplus general revenue fund money, but senators opposed that money coming from the GRF and not from gas taxes.

"My argument was this is better had during the operating budget because it's general revenue fund money that's going to come from those other projects," Huffman said.

It's likely discussions of the rural highway fund will come back in the two-year state budget. Stephens said amendments to that budget will come out next week.

The transportation budget also didn't include the speed limit increases that were in the first version in the Senate. DeWine had threatened to veto those. The governor said he was "adamantly" against any increases in the speed limit.

Sen. Mark Romanchuk (R-Mansfield) and Reps. Bill Dean (R-Xenia) and Melanie Miller (R-Ashland) were the three “no” votes.

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at kkasler@statehousenews.org.