Putting the wheels in motion

LISBON – Columbiana County commissioners took the first steps toward creating a special district enabling the county to seek state funding for U.S. Route 30 and other transportation projects.

Commissioners voted at this week’s meeting to hire the Columbus law firm of Kegler Brown Hill & Ritter to help them create a transportation improvement district under a law passed in 1993. TIDs were created to encourage counties and regions to pool efforts and resources in pursuing new transportation projects.

“The advantage of it is there are other pots of money we can get at (for transportation projects) that are only available to TIDs,” said county Engineer Bert Dawson, who is the one recommending commissioners create a TID.

TIDs also have the authority to raise funding for projects through either income or property taxes, tax incremental financing or issuance of construction bonds approved by the five-member board of trustees appointed by commissioners. There are also two non-voting board members, who are appointed by the Ohio House speaker and the Ohio Senate president.

County Development Director Tad Herold said the chief reason for the TID is to get access to state transportation funding that is specifically set aside for TIDs.

“We’re not going to ask communities to pledge funding because we know they don’t have the funding,” he said. “But we are going to use TID to leverage other money at the state and federal level.”

The Ohio Department of Transportation sets aside $3.5 million annually specifically for TIDs, with TIDs eligible to seek up to $250,000. Herold said the county is rushing to get its TID in place in time to apply for $250,000 this year.

Although TID can be used for any transportation project, the immediate focus would be to seek funding needed to jump-start the Route 30 relocation project. Commissioner Mike Halleck said the best approach is to do the project in phases given the limited amount of funding and the project’s nearly $1 billion overall price tag.

“If it had been done in sections over the past 20 years it would be completed, but it’s unrealistic to believe someone is going to hand you a check for $800-$900 million,” he said.

Dawson pointed out they already received $500,000 from ODOT to perform preliminary design work on congested areas along Route 30, which he takes to mean Minerva and Hanoverton. But he said they need an approved route for the entire relocation before doing design work on so-called congested areas.

“We’re saying we can’t do that without knowing the route,” Dawson said.

Herold said they are also open to using TID for other transportation projects. “This just isn’t for Route 30 … This is a tool we can use for future transportation projects,” he said.

TID is different than the regional transportation improvement project (RTIP) district being contemplated by the state legislature and reported on in this newspaper two weeks ago. The creation of an RTIP allows commissioners in two more counties to join forces in seeking funding to complete transportation projects.

Local officials said a RTIP would provide them with another way to seek funding for Route 30 and other projects.

As for the Columbus law firm hired by commissioners, it will be paid $235 an hour, not to exceed $11,750.