2 Ohio Democrats push public say on turnpike future

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Two Democratic state lawmakers are pushing for the public to have a greater say over whether the Ohio Turnpike is privatized, a move the Kasich administration says is unnecessary.

Reps. Matt Lundy of Elyria and Ronald Gerberry of Austintown said Tuesday they're preparing legislation that would require the state Turnpike Commission to hold four public hearings within three months of any proposed outsourcing of turnpike operations or maintenance.

Lundy said Ohioans in communities all along the Turnpike -- which stretches 241 miles across northern Ohio from Pennsylvania to Indiana -- are outraged at not being consulted on Gov. John Kasich's plans to potentially privatize the tollway.

"The turnpike has created jobs for many in the local communities surrounding it throughout the years, helping to support the local economy," Lundy said in a statement announcing the bill. "Privatizing the Turnpike could cost jobs, hurting those very same communities."

Kasich, a Republican, is exploring options for getting more money out of the turnpike, including possible lease. He says the turnpike could bring several billion dollars to the state for new road and bridge projects. Lundy and Gerberry say it's wrong to sell state assets for one-time money.

Their bill would also strip the state budget and transportation directors of authority over turnpike outsourcing contracts.

Steve Faulkner, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Transportation, said lawmakers are leaving a false impression that the public hasn't been involved in the process.

"Legislating meetings is a ridiculous approach," he said, adding that government officials and project consultant KPMG have participated in more than 100 meetings regarding the turnpike across northern Ohio in the past 18 months.

"These involved business leaders, elected officials, Chamber (of Commerce) groups, any one of which Reps. Lundy and Gerberry could have been welcome to attend, and they didn't," he said.

The bill calls for formal public hearings held in geographically diverse locations within the immediate vicinity of the turnpike.

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