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Government and Politics

Experts debate how to fund Ohio's roads in the future
Current driving trends are hurting the infrastructure's biggest forms of revenue

Karen Kasler
Funding for road construction is waning because of new driving habits.
Courtesy of Doug Kerr
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The state’s aging infrastructure is in need of repairs, but new driving habits have caused old methods of funding to become less profitable. Experts talk about some possible solutions to the dilemma.

LISTEN: Kasler on road funding's future

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Road construction is funded by the gasoline tax, which is declining because cars are more efficient and rates of millennial drivers are falling. And higher inflation is giving those fewer dollars less purchasing power. A simple solution to securing the future of road construction funds could be to raise the gas tax. 

Republican Rep. Rex Damschroder of Fremont says it is fairest and simplest to charge those who use the roads what it would take to fix them, but he admits it’s a tough sell.

“There’s a lot of legislators out there without enough guts. And I will say that, to support, if you want to call it a tax, call it whatever you want, a user fee or a tax," Damschroder says. "It costs money to maintain the highways. We need good infrastructure.”

Fool's errand
But former state representative and longtime transportation expert Gene Krebs, who is also a Republican, says talk of raising the gas tax is a fool’s errand.

“In order to make up for the lost purchasing power that ODOT’s currently experiencing, you’d have to raise the gasoline tax two pennies a year every single year just to maintain status quo," Krebs says. "We’re not going to do that.”

Krebs advocates a restructuring of transportation to find the most efficient ways to get people and goods around the state, which he says could be by roads, by river, by air or by rail.

What about electric cars?
But Damschroder maintains a gas tax is the most direct way to fund roads. But as for vehicles which do not use gasoline, Damschroder says they should be left alone for now.

“Kind of hold off until a lot of electric cars are on the road, a lot of hybrids are on the road and using the roads, and then maybe bring in the tax," Damschroder says. "But at this point, if we want to encourage green energy, we can’t tax them to death, kill the industry before it starts.”

But Krebs says there are no good choices regarding ODOT funding now, just ugly ones. And he suggests taxing the owners of electric and hybrid cars in Ohio now, even if it would be controversial.

What will kill what?
“The General Assembly, as you and I both know, does not like or enjoy taking tough, unpopular stances,” Krebs says.

“But that could kill an industry before it starts,” Damschroder says.

“It won’t kill an industry,” Krebs says.

“It won’t come to Ohio if we’re going to tax it,” Damschroder says.

“That’s a de-minimis tax that would have no impact on the industry,” Krebs says.

But Krebs and Damschroder do agree that if legislators just get more revenue without any new standards on how it should be spent, then the situation will not change.

Krebs notes that the transportation budget included a task force to study ODOT’s financial situation, but that no members have been appointed to it. The task force is supposed to deliver a report in December.

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