Despite traffic on state highways, roads and bridges decreasing significantly in 2020, the Ohio Department of Transportation expects to spend nearly $2 billion in the next year on nearly 1,000 projects.
Traffic volume fell by 15.5% during the past year as the COVID-19 pandemic limited road travel, ODOT said. More people worked from home. Stay-at-home health orders, capacity limits, business closures and statewide curfews also reigned in optional travel.
Despite the limited driving, which also leads to less fuel consumption and less taxpayer money available, ODOT pointed to a 2019 gas tax increase, along with budget cuts, for staving off what could have billon a $3 billion swing in taxpayer money for the department.
“Thanks to the foresight of Gov. [Mike] DeWine and the Ohio General Assembly and internal operational savings identified by our workforce, we have been able to weather this global pandemic,” ODOT Director Jack Marchbanks said. “Without those extra funds, we would be nearly a billion dollars in the red. While other states have been delaying or cancelling projects, Ohio continues moving forward.”
In all, the upcoming expenditures cover 876 bridges and 4,596 miles of pavement. ODOT said 96 cents of every dollar spent will go toward existing roads and bridges, with 266 projects considered safety projects.
“Ohio’s ability to safely and easily move people and goods is vital as we continue to recover from the global pandemic,” DeWine said. “As ODOT begins the 2021 construction season, there are many infrastructure projects throughout the state that will improve safety for motorists. We also need motorists to pay attention and not drive distracted and to slow down in construction zones.”
The General Assembly passed an $8 billion transportation budget in late March, removing DeWine’s proposed $10 increase in vehicle fees, along with plans to increase fines for distracted driving. It also reduced fees on alternative fuel vehicles.
The vehicle registration fee increase was proposed to provide more funding for the State Highway Patrol, but lawmakers added $50 million in funding for the patrol.
The Senate added nearly $14 million to public transportation, which already had received a $70 million boost in the House over what DeWine had originally proposed.