Governor John Kasich Thursday unveiled a plan to complete a second innerbelt bridge by the originally projected date of 2016. City officials are jubilant, after months of tension over delays announced early this year. Ideastream's Bill Rice reports.
Last January the state department of Transportation told Cleveland officials that it didn't have the money to budget for the second of two new inner belt bridges agreed to by Governor Ted Strickland's administration. It push off completion of the bridge until 2023, later revising that to 2019. But it's all changed now. Governor Kasich used the backdrop of Cleveland's West Flats to explain what he describes as a public-private partnership not used before in Ohio to fund state projects.
Kaksich: "It has never happened before. And you might ask, well, why this bridge? Well first of all, because we love Cleveland and we think the growth of Cleveland and the prosperity of Cleveland is important to the entire state of Ohio. And secondly, this is a project where the private sector indicated an interest. So it worked out."
Instead of budgeting the money up front and then awarding the design and construction of the bridge to the lowest bidder, contractors, with other financing partners, will bid to design, build AND finance the project themselves, and be paid back with interest when its completed. The arrangement will allow demolition of the existing bridge and construction of the 2nd new bridge to begin on its original start date of 2014 - when the 1st new bridge is completed - and be completed by 2016.
During question and answer with reporters, Kasich and ODOT Director Jerry Wray explained that the private players in the partnership aren't yet known.
KASICH: It will be out there and people will decide who wants to be involved in this project. REPORTER: Do you have a timeline for divulging this person's identity? KASICH: (lautghs) It's not like.. we're not playing a secret game, we're going to go to the market… Go ahead Jerry… WRAY: We're going to go to the marketplace and we're going to ask for proposals, and those proposals will involve the financing, the timing and the construction, and we'll be selecting the best value.
The legislature OKed the arrangement as part of the transportation budget passed last year. Kasich says he'll continue to push lawmakers on initiatives like leasing the Ohio Turnpike to a private operator, and leasing rest areas on other highways to food and fuel service companies, to come up with the money to pay for more highway infrastructure projects.
Cleveland City Councilman Joe Cimperman says he's ecstatic about the restored timeline. He and other city officials complained loudly when the project was pushed back. It goes right through Tremont, part of Cimperman's ward.
CIMPERMAN: "They're ahead of schedule on this bridge. So if we can keep this track up, it can be seamless. That was what the neighbors were concerned about. We wanted it to be seamless. We wanted it to be one construction project, not two that were scattered over a decade and a half, so we're just thrilled that it's going to happen simultaneously with the conclusion of the first bridge."
Governor Kasich says the new plan is not a one hundred percent done deal, but he's pretty confident.
KASICH: "Not only did the companies involved in the construction test the market, but we in the Dept. of Transportation tested it as well. It is a safe project and we believe it will work."
Kasich says he plans to use the same kind of financing mechanism for other major road projects.
Bill Rice, 90.3.