Parker: We need to fix our roads

I don’t know about you, but these Ohio potholes created by our freeze-and-thaw this past fall and winter are driving me crazy and killing my 9-year old Suburban.  But what are we going to do about it before it gets even worse?

Then came a reminder in an article written in the Dayton Daily News on Valentine’s Day about our roads.  So were those potholes described in the article supposed to be my Valentine’s Day present?  Well, I don’t think so.

Phil Parker, president & CEO, Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce

Right now, smart people are meeting to discuss how Ohio can continue to meet its obligations of providing adequate roads and bridges to the public and rebuilding old infrastructure plus considering new development in our hope to retain and attract new jobs and the matching talent needs to Ohio.  I have some real concerns about how to fund this fairly; but here are a few important data points that affect Ohio’s needs and uses.  Did you know:

  • Ohio has the 4th largest interstate system in the nation with over 8,000 interstate miles of highway; but the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is also responsible to maintain over 43,000 miles of U.S. and State Routes outside of municipalities.
  • Varied vehicles and users travel over 90 million miles daily.
  • Ohio has the 2nd largest inventory of bridges in the nation that must be maintained.
  • Ohio supports the 3rd highest freight volume in the U.S. due to our manufacturing sector needs and vehicles passing through our state.

Currently the funding has dwindled to a point of not keeping up with inflationary costs of construction.  Our funding mechanism is threefold:  1. A state tax on fuel of 28 cents per gallon; 2. Federal resources that come back under a matching situation; and 3. Partnering with local governments on shared priority projects.

Surrounding states use a similar model.  But Michigan charges 44.1 cents per gallon; Pennsylvania adds 58.7 cents per gallon; Indiana charges 42.9 cents per gallon; and only Kentucky at 26.0 cents per gallon is lower than Ohio.  Ohio’s overall usage is higher in most categories compared to these other states.

So what is to be done?  Well, no one likes to talk about adding more user-fee taxes even when we are experiencing gas prices at less than $2.50 per gallon; but to tax everybody some new income tax does not seem fair, either.

A group called FOR OHIO Fix Our Roads is convening a number of thought leaders on this subject; but here are my five questions they must answer if they are to get it right:

  • What is the best and fairest way to ask Ohio drivers (private and commercial) to fund the maintenance and new construction of our roads?
  • Do we want to compete in attracting companies and jobs by adding new or improving existing roads and bridges infrastructure? If so, how will this be funded?
  • How do alternative-fuel vehicles and users pay their fair share?
  • Revenues are down, partially because cars and trucks are more energy efficient and use less fuel; but they still travel our roads. How do we treat the user of the future?
  • Finally, how do non-Ohioans pay for the privilege of using our highways and interstates? Is there a different model for them to pay their share?

So much needs to be done in the next months ahead.  It will take a lot of political courage to get there.  We haven’t changed anything in Ohio since 2005 … some fourteen years ago … it has only gotten worse.  Much usage has changed since then.  I want to be at the table to challenge our elected leaders as to how we move forward.  The worst-case scenario is to do nothing that would not even maintain the safety conditions of what we already own.  No action would lead to more potholes; damages; accidents; or God forbid, even fatalities.

I remember now, this started out with me complaining about the potholes going unrepaired and I’m tired of it.  Who is going to fix your tire or car damage?  Maybe I’ll have a conversation with my elected officials about that.  You should, too.

Phillip L. Parker, CAE, CCE
President and CEO
Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce

Download a PDF of this article as it appeared in the Dayton Daily News.