COLUMBUS - A proposal on whether to lease the Ohio Turnpike or get more money out of the toll road some other way is coming soon, Gov. John Kasich said.
The governor said last week that he's looking at options that could bring the state more than $1 billion, and a formal proposal could be announced within the next month. It's believed that the governor's administration is studying whether to lease the turnpike over a period of years or issue bonds against it.
"The bottom line is there may be some real money lying out there if we do this thing the right way," Kasich said Friday.
He's been pushing the idea of using the turnpike that crosses northern Ohio to bring several billion dollars to the state for new road and bridge projects.
Critics, including many elected officials in northern Ohio, say leasing the road could bring higher tolls for drivers and less maintenance on the road.
State Sen. Capri Cafaro, who serves as a member of the transportation committee, said Sunday night that she voted against the budget that included Kasich's proposal because she was concerned about higher tolls, job security for turnpike workers and less maintenance on the road.
''What is of utmost importance is not having the tolls skyrocket, preserving as many jobs as possible and continuing to maintain the roads,'' the Hubbard Democrat said.
She said if a lease agreement does go through it is vital to make sure the money generated through the transaction is used for the communities along the turnpike and not diverted to Cincinnati.
Kasich has tried to ease some of those worries, although he said putting a limit on future toll increases would reduce how much money the state could get from allowing a private company to operate the toll road.
He said the state could get enough money to take care of a lot of infrastructure needs for about a decade.
"We're going to treat northeastern and northern Ohio and northwestern Ohio, we're going to treat everybody fairly, and they'll get a big chunk of the money," he said Friday.
The turnpike runs from Mahoning County on the Pennsylvania state line, across the northern portion of Ohio, and ends in Williams County on the Indiana state line.
The state has hired consultants to study the turnpike's future. Options include leasing the turnpike to a private operator, maintaining public ownership and operation, or using a mix of public ownership with part private operation.
The turnpike now operates entirely on its own revenue and is funded through tolls and the sale of gas and food at rest stops. It had $11 million in profits last year.
Drivers paid $232 million in tolls last year.
Cafaro said the legislature is not part of the negotiations between ODOT and the administration, but that she has been in contact with them over her concerns.
Fellow Mahoning Valley Democrat, state Rep. Ron Gerberry, D-Austintown, also has been a vocal detractor of the leasing idea. He submitted a bill earlier this year that would ban privatizing the road.