Officials not giving up easily on Route 30 project

LISBON – The latest effort to obtain funding for the proposed expansion of U.S. Route 30 again fell short of getting the state support needed for the long-stalled project to move forward.

The project was left off the list of those given preliminary funding approval last week by the Transportation Review Advisory Committee (TRAC) of the Ohio Department of Transportation.

Columbiana County Engineer Bert Dawson, who is among those pushing for the proposed expansion, took encouragement because Route 30 scored enough points to again be placed on ODOT’s list of Tier 2 projects, which are those projects in advanced stages of development that could be accelerated should the funding become available.

“They didn’t slam the door on us,” he said.

Route 30 is a four-lane road from Indiana to East Canton, where it remains a winding two-lane road the final 30 miles across Columbiana County. Local officials have been trying since the 1950s to complete the county section, but each attempt has failed due to lack of funding.

Dawson and the rest of the U.S. Route 30 Corridor Committee proposed reviving the project in 2010 as a toll road to help cover the cost, but an ODOT study released in March determined that charging tolls four times higher than the Ohio Turnpike would still generate only $475 million of the estimated $750 million needed.

Undeterred, Dawson and the committee reworked the funding package, keeping the toll road component and asking for $120 million from the $1.5 billion in Ohio Turnpike bonds being sold by the state for highway construction, as well a $28 million from the state severance tax on oil and gas drilling the state legislature has so far refused to enact. This left the project about $100 million short.

The reworked proposal placed heavy emphasis on how Route 30 needed to be expanded to four lanes to accommodate the increased traffic and development resulting from the oil and gas boom under way in the county and region. Dawson called this Ohio’s Energy Corridor.

Route 30 received 31.5 TRAC points, its most ever, but less than the 50 needed to qualify as a Tier 1 project, which are projects ODOT has scheduled for construction over the next four years. It also marked Route 30’s return as a Tier 2 project since it fell off the list in 2008.

“We did a lot of work, and Mr. (Charles) Lang’s committee did a lot of work, and naturally we’re disappointed we didn’t get funded. But we did get on Tier 2, so we’ll just have to continue working to find more funding,” he said.

TRAC gave preliminary approval for $3 billion in highway and road projects to be undertaken by ODOT over the next two years. Dawson noted none of the projects are in the ODOT district that includes the county, and 73 of Ohio’s 88 counties will not have a funded project.