The Ohio Department of Transportation is studying whether it can turn a section of U.S. 30 in Stark and Columbiana counties into a toll road.
The money raised would be used to finish the four-lane highway from Canton to state Route 11 near Lisbon, a project that has languished for years and carries an estimated $900 million price tag.
The state must look at alternative ways to fund needed highway and bridge projects, ODOT spokesman Steve Faulkner said.
The tolls would be charged only on the new section of highway. ODOT also has looked at toll projects for roads in Portsmouth and Cincinnati, Faulkner said.
The state agency commissioned a study about a year ago at the request of Canton officials and expects a report back within the next few weeks, he said. CDM Smith of Cambridge, Mass., is conducting the analysis.
U.S. 30, which crosses the nation, is a divided, four-lane highway from Chicago to Canton, where it abruptly pushes motorists onto a two-lane, twisting road through small towns.
The area from Canton to the Ohio River has become more heavily traveled as drillers discover and tap rich deposits of oil and gas in the Utica shale formation deep underground.
One question is whether there is enough traffic in that stretch to generate the revenue required to support the highway project. ODOT estimated a few years ago there are 13,310 vehicles that use the western most section each day.
Canton officials referred questions to City Engineer Dan Moeglin, who couldn’t be reached for comment.
Columbiana County Engineer Bert Dawson said there’s a major push by local leaders to complete the highway now, especially because the rural area is at the center of Ohio’s gas and oil boom.
“You don’t build a highway like Route 30 overnight,” he said. “And what happens if we wake up three or four years from now and we’ve got hundreds of wells in these two or three counties and we have all the traffic and all the inflow of people and we’re still dependent on Route 30 as our main east-west artery?”
The highway also would make it easier for Columbiana County residents to use Akron-Canton Airport and shop at Belden Village, Dawson said.
But it’s not just about economic development for the county. It’s also a safety issue because there are fatal crashes that occur each year on the winding road, he said.
Rick Armon can be reached at 330-996-3569 or firstname.lastname@example.org.