By Frank Lewis
U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) says Scioto County has 16 structurally deficient and 70 functionally obsolete bridges, and Brown says their repairs hinge on a federal highway bill that is funded and in place to help states and local government fund repairs.
However, with a looming deadline to pass critical highway funding fast approaching, Brown is calling for a bipartisan approach to fixing America’s highways and bridges by passing a long-term transportation bill during a news conference call on Wednesday. Brown said unless the federal transportation bill is reauthorized, critical road and bridge repairs in Ohio will be delayed and thousands of construction jobs will be at risk.
More than 2,200 Ohio bridges are currently deemed “structurally deficient” by the Federal Highway Administration. These bridges – located in all 88 counties – depend on funding from the highway bill for critical improvements and upgrades. According to recent reports, funding for highway projects will slide into insolvency ahead of the October 1, 2014 deadline for extending the current law.
“The program he is talking about is the federal funding which we receive some of,” Scioto County Engineer Craig Opperman said. “They’re wanting to get a more long term solution toward funding our infrastructure problems instead of running out of money all the time and then authorizing more money.”
Opperman said Scioto County does not receive a tremendous amount of that particular funding.
“We receive some,” Opperman said. “The Otway covered bridge is partially funded through that. In fact, the vast majority of the funding is coming from one or another federal funding program. The last two that we had was Dixon Mill Road and Arion Road. We have one in the works right now, but we’ve hit some stumbling blocks on it. The federal funds are not every day funds for us to replace our bridges.”
Opperman says Engineering maintains 500 bridges in Scioto County.
“While this (legislation) is an important part of our funding source, in that it generally helps us fund our major bridges, it still doesn’t solve our problem relative to the overall funding of our office,” Opperman said.
Joining Brown on a telephone press conference with the news media Wednesday to raise awareness of the issue was Chris Runyan, President of the Ohio Contractors Association (OCA). The OCA is the main industry association in Ohio representing more than 500 contractors involved in the construction and maintenance of highways, bridges, and other utility projects in Ohio.
“There are approximately 109,000 jobs in Ohio dedicated for building and maintaining our transportation infrastructure,” Runyan said. “Those jobs produce nearly $365 million in federal and state taxes. In addition to that, there’s another 2.7 million jobs that rely directly on our transportation system, such as tourism, retail sales and manufacturing and agriculture.”
Runyan will call on Congress to take immediate action to reauthorize the legislation while pointing to impacts Ohioans should anticipate if Congress does not act.
“The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) Capital Construction Program for state fiscal year 2014 is estimated to be in the range of $2.3-$2.4 billion. And nearly $1 billion of that is federal money,” Runyan said. “And that is a big chunk that we cannot afford to see dry up.”
“That’s why the Highway Bill is so important,” Brown said. “It makes critical investments in local highway and roadway construction projects.”
Brown said there are several examples of large projects going on in the state.
“Every part of the state has large-scale projects - Brent Spence in Cincinnati, the Portsmouth Bypass, Route 8 in Akron,” Brown said. “Reduction in funding would also slow down the replacement of smaller roads and bridges. We have more bridges than any state except Texas, and more than 8 percent of them, some 2,200 are considered structurally deficient. It doesn’t mean they’re going to fall down. It does mean though that they require major repairs and renovations sooner rather than later.”
Frank Lewis can be reached at 740-353-3101, Ext. 252, or on Twitter @FrankLewispdt.