Road projects in jeopardy if funding is not extended

BOARDMAN, Ohio (WKBN) – Unless congress acts soon, the Federal Highway Trust Fund will run out of money. That means millions of dollars in road maintenance and construction projects scheduled for this year are in jeopardy.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, was in Boardman Monday at the site of Interstate 680/U.S. Route 224 construction project to talk about the political battle surrounding the bill.

While the Boardman/I-680 project is fully funded and not in jeopardy, other projects could be stalled.

Brown said Tea Party politicians are putting the safety of American motorists at risk.

“A lot of them think there shouldn’t be a federal role in transportation. They are unwilling to pass a bill. They are unwilling, it seems, to fund transportation the way we have,” Brown said.

The federal highway bill allows local governments to pay for large-scale projects they couldn’t otherwise afford. Without it, projects such as the one on I-680 and U.S. Route 224 couldn’t happen.

“I just think the federal government has to stay involved in this,” said Donald Crane, president of Western Reserve Building Trades. “That way there is a standard that is maintained across the United States. I think it ensures that the roads and bridges don’t collapse, don’t fall to disrepair to where they won’t even be able to be traveled.”

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), if the projected shortfall in funding is not fixed soon, by the third week of this month, DOT will be forced to slow down payments to the Ohio Department of Transportation ahead of the Sept. 30, 2014 deadline for extending the current law.

Brown is proposing a six-year, bipartisan bill that would shore up funds to initiate several projects across the state, including several in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.

John Getchey with Eastgate Regional Council of Governments said about 108 projects locally are scheduled for some phase of construction.

“If there is not a continuing piece of legislation, there is a possibility some of our future projects will be in jeopardy,” said Getchey. “This one is totally funded, this one will be completed, but the next one at U.S. Route 224 and Route 11 will be in jeopardy.”

More than 2,200 bridges in Ohio are currently deemed “structurally deficient” by the Federal Highway Administration, 137 of those are in Mahoning County, 150 in Trumbull County, and 79 are in Columbiana County, according to the National Bridge Inventory. Deficient bridges in the Mahoning Valley are among the most in the state.

“They all involve federal funding. It is about $233 million in federal funds. If there is any delay in reauthorizing the Highway Bill, those costs are going to go up. Projects are going to get delayed and some projects won’t get built.”

Brown said if Congress doesn’t act, hundreds of constructions jobs also will be lost with the canceled or stalled projects.

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