Proponents of US Route 30 extension meet at Foltz Center in East CantonODOT officials asked to look at increased traffic, funds due to oil & gas boom in Stark, Carroll and Columbiana counties

By Karen MundyThe Press-News Published:

The oil and gas business is creating a lot of road traffic and helping the local economy, but it appears doubtful that the booming industry will be able to move up the date of new construction on U.S. Route 30.

A meeting was held last Wednesday of the U.S. Route 30 Corridor Committee to hear if and when U.S. Route 30 will be extended east through East Canton to state Route 44 and beyond to Columbiana County. Charles Lang, chairperson of the committee, hosted the event that had several speakers, including James A. Barna, assistant director of transportation policy, and James P. Riley, deputy director of innovative delivery, both with the Ohio Department of Transportation. The approximately 75 people who attended the meeting also heard from representatives of Columbiana and Carroll counties, the City of Canton and the village of Minerva.

The meeting is one of several being held by the U.S. Route 30 Corridor Committee. According to information sent out by Lang, the meeting was planned to show that recent economic growth and increased vehicle traffic in the area, due to the oil and gas industry, is reason to consider moving ahead on the U.S. Route 30 extension project. During the meeting ODOT representatives gave reports on the state's budget for highways, as well as innovative ways that are being considered to bring in much-needed funds for upgrading and maintaining Ohio's road system.

Many local officials and residents who attended the meeting brought up the amount of truck traffic, as well as tax dollars that are being brought into the area by companies such as Chesapeake Energy and others that are drilling for oil and gas. Minerva Administrator Dave Harp and Carroll County Commissioner Jeff Ohler both talked about how the oil and gas industry has already brought change to the neighborhoods and villages along and near U.S. Route 30.

"We weren't prepared for this," said Ohler about the traffic. "It is difficult to make a left-hand turn in the area now."

Ohler reported 30 pads for gas drilling have been put in place, but in the next five years there could be up to 300 pads, which could mean at least 1,800 oil wells. He said 30,000 residents are now in the county and an additional 6,000 people are expected to move into Carroll County in the next five years. The rent on existing houses has gone from $400 per month to $1,000 per month, he said.

Officials from Columbiana County also talked about new factories and increased traffic-- at least some of that contributed by the oil and gas business.

The bad news came when ODOT officials reported the state's dire financial condition at this time. Barna said there is a $1.6 billion shortfall for Tier 1 projects, and more than $10 billion in second tier project, of which U.S. Route 30 is one. Barna said Tier 1 projects, if funding is available, would not start until 2036.

The gas tax funds most of ODOT's budget. The current struggling economy, high gas prices and newer, more fuel-efficient vehicles have decreased tax funds coming and helped to bring about ODOT's shortfall.

However, Barna and Riley said ODOT is now working to get creative with its funding of highways. They are looking to go to the private sector. This includes looking into leasing rest-stop land on non-interstate routes to private businesses such as Starbucks, McDonald's and other service-oriented businesses. Riley said there are now 57 rest stops on non-interstate routes and it costs the state $50 million a year in upkeep and maintenance. State officials are also looking into seeing if private companies and businesses would pay to have a portion of a roadway or a bridge carry their name, much like sports arenas bear the names of businesses. There has also been discussion as to whether the state should sell or lease the turnpike to generate money. The turnpike brought in $250 billion in revenue last year. A toll study is now being done by ODOT to look into the best ways to use the turnpike.

Following the presentations, a question-and-answer time was held. Osnaburg Township Trustee Donna Middaugh said it is "very frustrating" that the U.S. Route 60 extension project has been on the books for 60-plus years, with no hope of the road ever being extended. She said that travelers go out of their way to avoid traveling on U.S. Route 30, so it actually causes more traffic on other routes.

"You may not have needed to add that other lane on Interstate 77, if work was done on U.S. Route 30," she added. "It is time to do something. We have put up with enough."

One resident commended ODOT officials for "thinking out of the box" by considering alternative ways of funding highway construction and upkeep. He asked how the general public could help with these new ideas. ODOT officials suggested talking to state legislators and trying to get private companies on board.

Others at the meeting said ODOT officials should be extremely careful about selling or leasing the turnpike to a foreign country.

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