Once heralded, borrowing against Ohio Turnpike now called ‘irresponsible to continue’

One-time borrowing against the Ohio Turnpike that has pumped $1.5 billion into road, highway, and bridge construction across the northern part of the state was heralded several years ago as an ingenious plan that no one had thought of before.

Today, it is seen as another short-term fix for a long-term problem, as the borrowing put off tough decisions about how Ohio can maintain today’s transportation infrastructure while also positioning itself to build the “smart” highways for the autonomous vehicles of tomorrow.

“[The turnpike borrowing] actually improved facilities, roadways, [and] bridges on the turnpike,” Jack Marchbanks, director of the Ohio Department of Transportation, said. “The majority, however, was spent on the state system, on interstates touching the turnpike, what we call the nexus.”

Ninety-two percent of the money, $1.38 billion, was spent off the east-to-west toll road corridor under legislation that opened the door for the first time for tolls to pay for non-turnpike roadwork.