In a new report, Boondoggles Highway 2, US PIRG, and the Frontier Group describe the most unnecessary highway projects that state DOTs build. Today we’re highlighting the Ohio DOT’s $ 1.2 billion Portsmouth Bypass, the most expensive and arguably least necessary transportation project in the state’s history.

A major highway project that ranked near the bottom of the state’s priority list is underway in one county and state, where driving has declined and existing roads are in desperate need of repair. In June 2015, a private contractor from the Ohio Department of Transportation began preliminary work to build a 16-mile, four-lane highway bypassing Portsmouth, a town of 20,000 across the Ohio River from the Kentucky in southern Ohio.

Portsmouth, an Appalachian town of about 20,000 people, is where the Ohio DOT wants to build a $ 1.2 billion bypass subsidized by state taxpayers. Map: United States PIRG

It would roughly parallel State Route 335/489 from Sciotoville north to Shumway Hollow Road, then cut northwest to Lucasville. The department doesn’t claim any transportation outcomes or benefits other than allowing drivers to avoid multiple traffic lights, but nonetheless says the project would prevent future congestion at several intersections of US 23 by building a road to attract traffic. traffic elsewhere.

The Portsmouth bypass, recently officially renamed the Southern Ohio Veterans Memorial Highway, is said to be one of Ohio’s costliest highway projects and its first-ever public-private partnership for highway construction.

The business partner is the Portsmouth Gateway Group, run by a construction company called Dragados, the company in charge of a multibillion-dollar tunneling project that stagnated under Seattle in 2013. Construction is expected to cost $ 429 million. dollars, and the company plans to spend $ 557 million over 35 years to operate and maintain the highway. State funds spent over this period will amount to $ 1.2 billion.

The money will come mainly from taxpayer subsidies, in the form of direct public investments, public loans and tax-advantaged bonds. These grants would strain future budgets, swallowing up money that could be used in the future for education, health care and other necessities.

Construction of a new road is out of step with recent trends in Scioto County: Vehicle kilometers driven in the county fell an average of 0.2% per year from 2004 to 2014, according to DOT data from the state. Traffic on roads that would be bypassed by the new highway has been stagnant for nearly a decade.

Traffic is stagnant around Portsmouth, making the momentum for the road foggy.  Chart: US PIRG
Traffic is stagnant around Portsmouth, making the momentum for the road foggy. Chart: US PIRG

The state has serious competing needs for its meager transportation dollars. The Portsmouth bypass is not one of them: it scored lower than all other statewide projects except three in its review in 2011 and 2012.

The state’s existing roads are also in need of repair. In 2013, 15% of Ohio’s major highways were in poor condition, forcing Ohio motorists to incur $ 3.3 billion – $ 413 each – per year in the additional costs of driving on highways. roads in need of repair.

In March 2015, the state’s local governments pleaded with the state’s transportation department to invest in repairing the state’s existing roads. Yet on March 31, 2015, the Federal Highway Administration announced that it would loan the state $ 209 million for the project under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA). And less than two weeks later, the state of Ohio signed a contract to begin construction of the road.

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