March 2, 2019
Ohio’s infrastructure is in a state of crisis. Last week, Gov. Mike DeWine proposed an 18-cent increase in the gas tax as a way to help close the gap on the $1-billion shortfall for road and bridge maintenance and construction that the Ohio Department of Transportation will face by 2030. An increase in the gas tax is the most obvious path toward doing so, but it is not the only option. The tax hike alone would only lock Ohio into the status quo.
The status quo on our roadways will cost billions in lost time, wasted fuel, and higher vehicle operating expenses. We need to move beyond the mindset that the gas tax is the end-all-be-all to funding the maintenance and construction of our roads and bridges.
Experts from both parties agree that a mix of user fees – toll roads, vehicle miles traveled fees, weight or cargo fees and license fees – should be used to pay for this infrastructure. I agree. They ought to be protected, like the gas tax, to ensure they are spent only on roads and highways.
Ohio’s needs are broad and significant. We have more than 360 dams that are considered a high-hazard potential. Keeping our drinking water clean and safe will cost $12.2 billion. Wastewater systems need an investment of $14.58 billion. And then there are the ports, the airports, and other engines of economic activity.
The money has to come from somewhere. Mechanisms like tax increment financing (TIF) can assist localities in moving projects along and should be exercised more regularly.
But like user fees on our roadways, TIFs will only take us so far. We need an all-of-the-above approach that will create jobs, boost productivity, increase safety and result in a net gain for all people. And that means Ohio has to include public-private partnerships as a viable way of achieving the results the people want.
With public-private partnerships, tens of billions of dollars presently sitting on the sidelines in the private sector can get working for everyone. By fully investing in our infrastructure, Ohio can attract new businesses and investment.
Public-private partnerships can be highly beneficial for communities and entire regions. Ohio has some first-hand experience with this. Less than 18 months ago, the state’s first major public-private partnership project for road construction was completed. The Southern Ohio Veterans Memorial Highway, a 16-mile bypass, was completed 17 years sooner than what ODOT had projected had it been built in three phases as originally prescribed as a state-run project. Best, the state’s partners are responsible for maintaining the road until 2053 and the agency will pay the tab over 35 years.
If we fail to take on all of the hard work before us, we will lose jobs. Our economy will suffer. People will be increasingly at risk for their safety. And future generations will face bigger bills and impossible challenges. Together, we can do better.