State lawmakers got their first look at the budget for Ohio Department of Transportation – which reflects the hike in the gas tax by 10.5 cents two years ago and the impact of less driving during the pandemic.
ODOT Director Jack Marchbanks told the House Finance Committee the gas tax hike has helped, even though his budget estimates $333 million in less revenue over the next two years.
Marchbanks said last spring, as the state had ordered schools and most businesses to shut down, traffic volume had been cut in half. That came back up as businesses began to reopen, and there have been spikes around the holidays, but Marchbanks said those numbers have plateaued since last summer.
“We saw in excess of a $300 million decline in what we had anticipated would be our revenues for calendar 2020," Marchbanks said. But he added, "we right now are in good shape in regards to what we can get done with the money we have."
But Marchbanks cautioned that reduced commuting post-pandemic, the growth of electronic vehicles and other unforeseen things will create future problems.
“Every state DOT, every state is going to be facing a funding dilemma mid-decade," Marchbanks said.
But Marchbanks said reduced driving also allowed construction crews to expand work zones and get projects done faster.
Marchbanks also notes the ODOT budget makes changes in other laws on driving – specifically, on cell phones and texting.
“This proposal would change laws in Ohio to make driving while handling any electronic wireless device a primary traffic offense," Marchbanks said. "The bill will also increase fines for drivers who habitually use devices while driving, similar to our treatment for intoxicated drivers.”
The budget also notes that while travel was down 15% in 2020 versus 2019, traffic deaths in 2020 were up by 7%. Traffic deaths involving pedestrians were up 29%, deaths at intersections were up 33% and deaths involving motorcycles were up 23%.
Marchbanks blamed those numbers on speeding, not wearing seat belts, distracting driving or driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
But because of advancements in safety measures in vehicles, serious injuries from crashes declined for the fourth straight year.