By Carol McIntire
County residents asked questions and aired concerns during a public hearing Monday to discuss a cooperative agreement, which must be signed by county commissioners before they can join a regional transportation group with its eyes focused on improving US 30 and connecting Carroll County to the new roadway.
Rep. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, 48th District, who authored legislation that allows multiple counties to jointly undertake road improvement projects, explained the steps and outlined the project to over 60 people who attended the session in the Carroll Golden Age Retreat.
Schuring said at this point Carroll, Stark and Columbiana counties are interested in forming what is known as an RTIP (Regional Transportation Improvement Project). In order to create the group, county commissioners in each county must sign a cooperative agreement that outlines the project. The RTIP hinges on upgrades to US 30 so travelers and regional businesses have a four-lane, divided, limited access highway through Ohio with connections to Pittsburgh through Rt. 11 to Rt. 7 then to Route 22. The existing highway will be expanded to four lanes from SR 44 in East Canton to SR 11 in Columbiana County.
Included in the plan is the study, design and construction of 14 miles of new four-lane highway in Carroll County to connect the county to US 30.
Schuring admitted US 30 has been looked at for improvements for many years, but the project never got off dead center.
“The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) has been relied upon to fund the entire project in the past,” he noted. “By forming the RTIP, we can go to ODOT and show them we are willing to bear a portion of the cost.”
According to Schuring, the best funding option at this time for the project is what is known as Tax Increment Financing or TIF.
When a TIF is created, he said, a portion of any new tax dollars generated by new commercial construction or improvements to existing commercial businesses or industry can be diverted to pay bonds issued for the purpose of constructing the roadway.
“No existing tax dollars will be used for the RTIP,” he explained adding that language was incorporated into the cooperative agreement at the request of Carroll County Commissioner Jeff Ohler.
“Only a portion of the new tax revenue will be diverted to pay for the bonds,” he stated. “Taxes will not be increased on residential property.”
“If we can capture some of the tax dollars, we can do some pretty significant things,” he said.
He repeatedly stated the public meeting was only the first step in the process and only allowed commissioners to join the RTIP and gives them the opportunity to work together cooperatively with the other counties.
“There are many, many steps to this and it will take time,” he said.
“Once the agreement is signed by all counties involved, we can present it to ODOT (Jerry Wray, director) for his consideration. He will then decide if ODOT wishes to partner with us on the project.”
Valerie Croasmun, who is with the engineering firm MS Consultants of Columbus, said if ODOT gives the project its blessing, it will still take several years before it becomes a reality.
“The lines on the map you see tonight show connections. They are not routes that have been selected. We must study the routes, what impacts each route will make, look at environmental concerns, residential concerns and even how it will affect the Indiana Bats and rattlesnakes,” she said. “We also look at the existing route to alleviate some of the problems that exist now.”
Shuring added there will be plenty of public opportunities for residents to talk about the route in the future.
Resident Ernie Little said the maps he saw showed a northern route and asked what happened to previous alternatives that had US 30 dipping down into the northern part of Carroll County.
Shuring said he believed ODOT preferred the northern route, but no route is set in stone and other options can be discussed.
Ben Reece, who is a seeking a county commissioner seat in the November 2016 election, said he surveyed emergency services and fire departments in the county. “They have no use for a four-lane highway,” he said. “ODOT just redid SR 43 and spent a lot of money doing it. I don’t think they want to build a new road,” he said.
Lester Dodds asked about cost of the project, projected to be in excess of $1 billion for the entire project.
“What can we do to raise that kind of money?” he asked.
Shuring noted the RTIP will share the cost of the project with ODOT.
“I don’t anticipate this region will bear the entire cost,” he said. “We plan to come up with a match and partner with ODOT to build the roadways.” He estimated that share would be more than 10 percent of the cost; more in the range of 20 percent.
Michael Wawszkiewicz, program manager and associate vice president of HNTB, a Columbus based firm focused on infrastructure solutions, said the cost isn’t all bourn by the locals.
“There are state and local contributions, grant programs and the federal transportation bill which could be sources of funding,” he said. “Competition for these dollars is great. That is why it is important to have the voice of several counties combined.”
Ryan Irwin, newly elected Brown Twp. trustee, noted Brown Twp. funds have been cut and people in the township don’t understand why trustees can fix their roads but are going to have to pay for a new road to be built.
“Just tell them this does not force you to spend any money,” Shuring replied. “You are the steward of the township’s money and if you don’t want to spend it, no one can make you.”
Little said he heard severance tax dollars are going to pay for the improvements, to which Shuring replied,” Nothing in the law says there will be the funneling of severance tax dollars to pay for this project. Anyone who believes that is speculating and I am not going to speculate.”
Malvern resident Rev. Wally Anderson asked if the roadway will be a four-lane divided with a median or if it a four-lane with no median.
Croasmun said it depends on what is needed: turn lanes, access roads or maybe a bike lane along the outside. “That is all part of the planning process,” she said.
Carrollton Administrator Mark Wells asked if there is a timeline for commissioners to adopt the cooperative agreement.
“We are trying to decide what is best for Carroll County,” replied Commissioner President Bob Wirkner. “That decision will be a product of our discussions which will held in open session.”
Commissioner Ohler noted he is excited about the prospect but said there is no timetable for the agreement to be signed.
“I think we need to have a plan in place to help our business and industry in our county,” he said. “But I can assure you I will not make a commitment that will cause hardship on the county’s general fund. This could take up to six months.”
Canton Rd. resident Dave McLean asked which comes first: US 30 or the Carroll County corridor?
Shuring said the idea is to have a master plan, which is outlined in the cooperative agreement. Copies of the cooperative agreement were made available to those in attendance, although very few people walked forward to pick up a copy.
“Our theme is 30 by 30,” Shuring said explaining the idea is to have 30 completed by 2013.
The cooperative agreement schedule shows work on the US 30 extension beginning as soon as possible and the north to south improvements in Carroll County beginning in about 2021.
Croasmun and Wawszkiewicz both said projects like this take time and the county is looking at a period of several years before any construction begins.
Two people who refused to identify themselves, expressed concerns about their home, which they said is located along SR 43. They stated they moved from Augusta (where they would never of had to worry about this) to SR 43 and now fear they will lose their home. The female also expressed concern about a water and sewer project said she was happening in conjunction with the road project and the cost associated with it.
Commissioner Wirkner said the two projects are not related. “The water and sewer project is focused on bringing water and sewer from Malvern along SR 43 to Arrow Rd.,” he said. “As for the cost, the county is in the process of securing grants and loans to pay for the project. There is no cost to hook up to the water line and residents are not required o hook to it. The only cost for the sewer is the tap off fee. We applied for a grant to help alleviate that cost for eligible residents.”
Brown Township resident Jack Butner encouraged commissioners to continue gathering information and hold public forums where residents can voice their opinion.
“You are talking about the future,” he said. “This is not going to be easy. I encourage you to get to the first step and explore the possibilities.”
Commissioners meetings, where the cooperative agreement will be discussed, are held Monday and Thursday morning at 9 a.m. in the commissioners meeting room on the second floor of the county courthouse. The meetings are open to the public.