Senate transportation budget changes would boost speed limits, cut rural Ohio highway fund
Ohio Senators have made changes in the state's proposed transportation budget, with just two weeks to go before it needs to be signed into law.
The Senate plan would increase speed limits on highways outside cities from 55 to 60, and on two-lane state routes from 60 to 65.
Sen. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard) chairs the transportation committee, and noted Senators also removed the $1 billion the Ohio House had put into a rural highway construction program.
“While we believe the intention to serve our rural highways is a good intention, upon further reading the language and doing some further research, we believe the way it was written would only apply to a dozen or so projects across the state," Kunze said.
Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) is a champion of that rural highway program, saying earlier this month that "it's more of a non-urban highway fund, because 80 counties are included in that, and what it talks about are the non-interstate, four-lane big projects."
The Senate version of the transportation budget keeps rail safety proposals from the House version, including maintaining the status quo of two-man crews. Rail workers have embraced those, while rail companies have said state requirements are unconstitutional based on the Commerce Clause in the US Constitution.
Senators also proposed removing the $1.6 billion sale of the city-owned Cincinnati Southern Railway to Norfolk Southern pending voter approval. That's not directly related to the toxic train derailment in East Palestine.
Republican former state lawmaker Tom Brinkman is suing over the railway's board, claiming talks about the sale were done illegally behind closed doors. The Cincinnati Southern Railway is the only municipally-owned one in the US.
The Senate also added a requirement that counties and townships running traffic camera programs can use only hand-held cameras. A fiscal note on the two versions of the budget said there could be a loss of revenue or an increase in expenditures by communities with mounted cameras, not hand-held cameras.
The transportation committee must still vote on the budget to send it to the Senate floor. Then changes must be worked out with the House before the budget can be sent to Gov. Mike DeWine. The deadline for it to be signed and in place is March 31.
DeWine typically doesn't comment on proposed legislation. But when he was in the US Senate in 1995, DeWine spoke out against the law that repealed federal speed limits to allow states to set their own, saying “If we raise the speed limit, people will die.”