Thursday, August 12, 2004

Turnpike changes sought for truckers

By John Seewer
The Associated Press

Gov. Bob Taft is proposing higher speed limits and lower tolls for truckers on the Ohio Turnpike in an attempt to move the big rigs off overloaded two-lane roads.

The governor announced the proposals Wednesday while touring three areas in northern Ohio, where complaints about truck traffic have been rising in the last five years.

Truck traffic began spilling over to smaller roads after an 82 percent toll increase took full effect in 1999.

Taft wants the speed limit for trucks to increase from 55 mph to 65 mph - the same speed for cars. Ohio is one of six states that have split speed limits.

He also wants reduced tolls for trucks on a trial basis. For big trucks that most often use the turnpike, the toll is $42.45 to cross the state.

"By moving trucks to the turnpike, we will reduce the truck traffic on these smaller routes, improve safety and shrink congestion levels that often gridlock many of our northern Ohio communities," the governor said.

Taft's tour included a stop not far from where six people were killed on a two-lane road when a tractor-trailer collided with a sport utility vehicle.

The driver of the truck wasn't at fault, investigators said, but the accident did highlight the concern about trucks on secondary roads. Big-truck traffic had nearly doubled on the road in the last decade.

Taft also made a stop in Bellevue where mile-long traffic jams are routine on U.S. Route 20, which runs parallel to the turnpike. More than 600 trucks pass through each hour on average, a city survey found in 2000.

The governor wants the Ohio Department of Transportation and the Ohio Turnpike Commission to study his proposals and determine by September what should be done and how to do it.

The turnpike commission is likely to approve the speed increase at its next meeting on Aug. 23, said Gary Suhadolnik, the turnpike's executive director.

"It will happen in pretty short order," he said.

Figuring out how to cut the costs for trucks on the toll road will take more time, Suhadolnik said.

He would prefer a fuel tax rebate for truckers as opposed to a toll reduction, which would cut into the turnpike's budget. He said it's not fair for a trucker to pay the fuel tax and the toll - both are fees intended for highway improvements - while on the turnpike.

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