Ohio’s transportation system faces challenges in the form of deteriorated roads and bridges, high rates of rural traffic fatalities, increasingly crowded roads, and insufficient funding to proceed with projects needed to support economic development. Increased investment in transportation improvements at the local, state and federal levels could improve road and bridge conditions, boost safety, increase roadway efficiency and support long-term economic growth in Ohio, according to a new report released by TRIP, a Washington, DC based national transportation organization.
The TRIP report, “Modernizing Ohio’s Transportation System: Progress and Challenges in Providing a Safe, Efficient and Well-Maintained Transportation System,” finds that while the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) has been able to boost annual spending on highways and bridges over the last four years, funding is set to decrease significantly in 2016 and 2017 and the state faces an $11.6 billion shortfall in funding for needed road, highway and bridge improvements.
According to the TRIP report, nearly one-quarter of major urban roads are in poor condition, while approximately a quarter of locally and state-maintained bridges are structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. The state’s major urban roads are becoming increasingly congested and the fatality rate on Ohio’s rural roads is disproportionately high.
Twenty-four percent of Ohio’s major locally and state-maintained urban roads are in poor condition, while 41 percent are in mediocre or fair condition and the remaining 35 percent are in good condition. State-maintained roads are generally in better condition, with 98 percent of urban and rural state-maintained roads in acceptable condition.
Ohio’s bridges are also showing signs of their age, with approximately a quarter of locally and state-maintained bridges rated as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. Eight percent of Ohio’s locally or state-maintained bridges are structurally deficient, meaning they have significant deterioration of the bridge deck, supports or other major components. These bridges are often posted for lower weights or closed to traffic restricting or redirecting large vehicles, including commercial trucks and emergency response vehicles. An additional 16 percent of Ohio’s locally and state-maintained bridges are functionally obsolete. Bridges that are functionally obsolete no longer meet current design standards, often because of narrow lanes, inadequate clearances or poor alignment.
“TRIP’s report once again demonstrates that more must be done to secure funding for our state’s roads and bridges,” said Kimberly Schwind, senior public relations manager for AAA Ohio Auto Club. “Our leaders in Ohio and Washington must recognize the importance of this issue before it’s too late. Central Ohioans rely on our roads and bridges every day, and putting off tough decisions will only lead to longer commutes, more potholes and unsafe roads.”
Traffic crashes in Ohio claimed the lives of 5,229 people between 2009 and 2013, an average of 1,046 fatalities each year. The state’s overall traffic fatality rate of 0.88 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel is lower than the national average of 1.09. But, Ohio’s rural non-Interstate roads have significantly higher rates of fatal crashes, with a traffic fatality rate of 1.91 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel, more than three times the 0.58 fatality rate on all other roads and highways in the state.
Increasing traffic congestion is causing delays and increasing business operating costs. The efficiency and condition of Ohio’s transportation system, particularly its highways, is critical to the health of the state’s economy. Annually, $563 billion in goods are shipped from sites in Ohio and another $493 billion in goods are shipped to sites in Ohio, mostly by truck.
The Federal Highway Administration estimates that each dollar spent on road, highway and bridge improvements results in an average benefit of $5.20 in the form of reduced vehicle maintenance costs, reduced delays, reduced fuel consumption, improved safety, reduced road and bridge maintenance costs and reduced emissions as a result of improved traffic flow.
In addition to state and local funding, the federal government is a critical source of funding for Ohio’s roads, highways and bridges. However, after a series of short-term extensions by Congress, the current federal transportation legislation is set to expire on July 31, 2015. Many needed projects throughout the state will require significant federal funding in order to proceed by 2020.
These projects include reconstruction of portions of Interstates 70 and 71 in the Columbus area, the reconfiguration of portions of Interstate 270 in the Columbus area, the widening of a portion of Interstate 80 in the Youngstown area, the widening and reconstruction of a portion of Interstate 77 in Cuyahoga County, the reconstruction of the Main Street/Broadway Street interchange with Interstate 76 in Akron, the construction of the Opportunity Corridor highway in the Cleveland area, the reconstruction and widening of portions of Interstate 75 in the Cincinnati area and the replacement of the Brent Spence Bridge over the Ohio River in Cincinnati. A full list of projects threatened by a lack of adequate federal funding can be found in the report’s Appendix.
“Ohio’s transportation system will become increasingly deteriorated and congested if greater funding is not made available at the local, state and federal levels,” said Will Wilkins, TRIP’s executive director. “Congress can help by approving a long-term federal surface transportation program that provides adequate funding levels, based on a reliable funding source. If not, Ohio is going to see its future federal funding threatened, resulting in fewer road and bridge improvements, loss of jobs, and a burden on the state’s economy.”