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Kasich signs $7.8B transportation bill

By MARC KOVAC Capital Bureau Chief Published: April 2, 2017 10:39 AM

COLUMBUS -- Gov. John Kasich added his signature to a $7.8 billion biennial transportation budget Friday afternoon, solidifying spending for road and bridge projects over the next two fiscal years.

The governor, who completed the signing behind closed doors, touted the legislation's impact on transportation improvements and technologies, not to mention the 43 major projects, 446 bridge projects, 615 pavement projects and 356 safety projects covered by the bill.

"Ohio ranks high among all states for the quality and maintenance of our highway infrastructure and we did it without ever having to raise the gas tax," Kasich said in a released statement. "We're determined to maintain the competitive edge we have with our highways, while also positioning our state for the industries of tomorrow with self-driving cars and drones."

Kasich also used his line-item veto authority on several provisions, including language that would have allowed boaters to use a rearview mirror to keep tabs on water skiers.

The governor's action came two days after the Ohio House and Senate, on lopsided votes, gave their final OK to the transportation budget, which outlines funding for the Ohio Department of Transportation and a handful of other state agencies.

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It's separate from the larger state operating budget, which won't move until closer to the beginning of the next state fiscal year on July 1.

The transportation budget included a Senate amendment requiring at least $33 million in federal flexible funding in each fiscal year to be directed to public transportation projects.

A conference committee of the House and Senate removed two other public transit-related provisions, one shifting $30 million in Volkswagen emissions settlement money for transit upgrades and another diverting $48 million in motor fuel tax receipts to local road and bridge projects.

Among other provisions, lawmakers included language that would allow county commissioners to increase vehicle registration fees by $5, with the proceeds to be used for street and bridge projects. Any such increases would be subject to referendum, meaning voters could force the issues onto the ballot.

Lawmakers also OK'd a pilot project for Mahoning, Stark and four other counties to charge $15 per registration instead of $30 for commercial vehicles -- a move proponents hope will lead to an increase in big rig registrations in the state.

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Additionally, lawmakers opened the door for a rider on natural gas bills of $1.50 per month to cover the costs of economic development-related infrastructure. And the Ohio House and Senate approved language making a failure to display a front license plate on a parked vehicle a secondary offense.

Opponents voiced concern about potential fee increases included in final legislation, among other issues.

Kasich let stand much of what lawmakers approved, though he did line-item veto four items:

Lawmakers included a provision creating a Smart Transportation Action Advisory Team to make recommendations about public support for autonomous vehicle projects.

The governor deleted the language, calling it in his veto message "a bureaucratic barrier that in effect will slow research in transportation technology. Additionally, an oversight committee of this sort could have a negative effect on federal funding and the significant private investments associated with it, putting Ohio's ability to compete in the smart transportation and mobility sector at a disadvantage."

Kasich also vetoed language that would have required ODOT to install interchanges on limited access highways every four miles in certain urban areas, noting "it is ultimately unworkable" and may "run contrary to federal requirements."

The governor axed language that would have changed the frequency of local bridge inspections, meaning those inspections will still have to be done annually. Lawmakers had included language that would have allowed full inspections one year and partial inspections the next.

Kasich also removed the water skier provision, meaning boaters will have to keep an extra person on board to watch people being towed behind.

"Safety on Ohio's waterways continues to be a top priority for the state of Ohio," the governor wrote.

Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at mkovac@recordpub.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.


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