BEREA, Ohio — Toll increases will help the Ohio Turnpike see record revenue of about $270 million this year.
Turnpike officials reported Thursday that a 10-percent toll increase to start the year, combined with traffic running higher than projected, will generate about $250 million in tolls.
And money from service plaza concessions and other sources will raise year-end revenues to an all-time high of about $270 million.
The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reports that Gov. John Kasich is expected to announce soon whether his office wants to lease all or parts of the turnpike operation, such as toll collection, or merge the toll road with the Ohio Department of Transportation.
Kasich says the idea is to "unlock" the toll road's value and help cash-strapped Ohio finance more transportation projects.
The turnpike is projecting slightly more revenue in 2013, while reducing costs by $6.5 million.
The agency shed 100 workers this year and now has the equivalent of 970 full-time employees, said Executive Director Rick Hodges. It will finish the year with a profit of about $15 million, about $4 million more than last year, he said.
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That money could be used to pay off debt for transportation projects elsewhere, he said.
State law would have to change to allow it. The turnpike can spend money only within one mile of its borders.
"If they decide that's the direction to go, I will work to make that happen," Hodges said. "The turnpike is not an island."
The paper reported that such talk makes turnpike supporters nervous. Many believe the 241-mile toll road, with a reputation as well run, should be left alone.
They fear ever-rising tolls, poor maintenance and higher-use of parallel roads if oversight of the road changes.
Kasich's early interest in leasing the toll road sparked opposition from elected leaders across northern Ohio, including the governor's Republican colleagues.
Kasich's administration and ODOT then launched a $3.4 million study of ways to leverage turnpike revenue.
That study is nearly done. In a recent briefing with the turnpike commission, ODOT officials said the study looked at potential savings in a turnpike-ODOT merger.
Sharing facilities could mean closing the turnpike's Berea headquarters and two of the toll road's eight maintenance buildings, ODOT officials reported.
Under another scenario, toll collections could be handled by a private company.
Officials said that wouldn't happen in the short term. Toll collectors are represented under a Teamsters contract that extends through the year.
About a third of the turnpike's 30 interchanges have full or partial automation of fare collection.
"I don't think they're interested in doing much more with that," said Gary Tiboni, president of the Teamsters local. "You always need people at toll gates. With just machines, they break down and traffic can back up."
Hodges said there are no plans to outsource toll collection.
"It just makes sense that we work together with the state to find efficiencies," he said.
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