AUSTINTOWN - Road and bridge construction projects, like the multi-million dollar widening of Interstate 80 in Trumbull and Mahoning counties, postponed because of a gaping highway budget hole will be built quicker under a proposal to issue bonds against the Ohio Turnpike.
The proposal revealed by Gov. John Kasich Thursday in Toledo, Cleveland and Austintown does not include leasing the 241-mile toll road, but calls for issuing bonds backed by future tolls to pay for construction projects. About 90 percent of the new bond proceeds would be dedicated to road projects in northern Ohio.
The plan would generate $1.5 billion in new funds and up to $1.5 billion from matching local and federal funds.
For the $80 million Interstate 80 widening, it allows the project to happen in 2015 - 12 years sooner than thought at the beginning of 2012, when multiple project delays were announced by the Ohio Department of Transportation because of a $1.6 billion highway budget hole.
''It's huge,'' said Jim Kinnick, planning and engineering administrator with ODOT district four, which includes Trumbull and Mahoning counties. ''We were designing this, but had no construction money.''
Ohio Gov. John Kasich reveals his proposal for the Ohio Turnpike Thursday afternoon at Cerni Motors in Austintown. By R. Michael Semple
The project is the widening from two to three lanes from Austintown to Liberty and some bridge work, too, Kinnick said. A number of the bridges along the route already have been improved.
The idea is a departure from what the Republican Kasich initially proposed early in his term, to sell or lease the toll road to a private company.
That proposal upset many elected officials in communities in which the turnpike runs and caused the governor during his State of the State address in February to ask people to ''chill out'' over privatizing the road.
Those against privatization had worries a private operator would lead to higher tolls, less maintenance and a traffic shift to other routes.
Democrats on Thursday were critical of the Kasich's plan.
''There is absolutely no reason to go into debt to the things the governor wants to do,'' said state Rep. Tom Letson, D-Warren. ''Borrowing on the turnpike is just wrong ... if the governor would like to do something, he has a billion dollars in the rainy day fund and he can write his own check.''
Jerid Kurtz, spokesman for the Ohio Democrat Party, called the governor's proposal a ''radical plan to raid the Ohio Turnpike'' that will result in higher tolls, taxes and threaten jobs supported and employed by the road.
Kasich said the proposal is a job creator, as much as 65,000 related to the construction projects.
''There is a simple way to think about this,'' Kasich said at Cerni Motors in Austintown. ''If we don't do this, tolls will go up higher than we are proposing and projects won't get done for 20 or 25 years. Now, you're going to have caps on the tolls and you're going to have a bunch of projects and add 65,000 jobs. That's it. I think we ought to do it.''
The plan will need some legislative approval.
It also calls for freezing tolls for the next decade on passenger car trips of less than 30 miles that are paid for with an EZ pass; capping toll increases for longer trips and trucks at the rate of inflation; avoiding turnpike staff layoffs; and renaming the Ohio Turnpike Commission the Ohio Turnpike and Infrastructure Commission.
Democrat state Rep. Sean O'Brien, of Brookfield, said he's not sure if Kasich's plan is what should be done, but the lawmaker said he's pleased the governor decided against leasing or selling the road.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.