Every Time You Hit A Pothole You Should Be Thinking Of The $1.2 Billion Portsmouth Bypass

It’s June 26th. You would think by late June our pothole dodging days would be over until next winter, yet you can’t go anywhere in Columbus without hitting teeth rattling craters, whether on interstates or city roads.

Perhaps you’ve wondered why these car killers aren’t fixed by now. Maybe you’ve even wondered just where our gas taxes are going, since spending doesn’t seem to prioritize maintaining our existing roads. And it’s not just potholes either – have you taken Stelzer Rd. to the airport lately? It’s akin to traveling in a third world country.

Maybe these issues have something to do with curious ODOT decisions like the boondoggle in Portsmouth that will end up costing Ohio taxpayers well over a billion dollars. It’s the most expensive project in ODOT history.

The Portsmouth bypass will re-route traffic around Portsmouth and New Boston in Scioto county. This is an area that is seeing declining population and a decline in miles driven:

“Building a new road is out of step with recent trends in Scioto County: Vehicle-miles traveled in the county fell an average of 0.2 percent a year from 2004 to 2014, according to state DOT data. Traffic on the roads that would be bypassed by the new highway has been stagnant for nearly a decade.”

Over 35 years, the project will cost the state well over $1.2 billion, despite being a public-private partnership. And that figure is probably low, as most sources listing it as a total were published before the construction portion of the project jumped from a cost of $429 million to the current cost of $646.3 million.

Before we continue, take a second and ponder the amount of public outcry and media attention there would be if a public transit project in Ohio saw a $217 million increase. It would be common knowledge, and a point of lengthy debate. It’s an interesting contrast.

This bypass has been named one of the biggest highway boondoggles in America:

“Inglis and Olivieri say this 16-mile, four-lane highway scored “near the bottom” of the state’s priority list. Yet in June 2015, preliminary work began. The project’s potential impact on traffic is questionable at best: average annual vehicle miles in the county fell from 2004 to 2014, and officials claim “no transportation outcomes or benefits, apart from allowing drivers to avoid several traffic lights,” according to the boondoggle report.”

The state scored the project lower in priority than almost every other proposal being considered:

“The state has serious needs competing for its scarce transportation dollars. The Portsmouth Bypass is not one of them: It scored lower than all but three other projects statewide when reviewed in both 2011 and 2012.”

How is the road defended? Here’s Portsmouth and Scioto County’s development director:

“Most of the highway funding in the state of Ohio occurs north of I-70, so it’s nice that we’re getting a share” in Appalachia, Kester said.”

Also, sometimes traffic in downtown Portsmouth doesn’t flow completely smoothly:

“We have a pretty bad congestion problem” in Portsmouth, Kester explained. “All truck traffic comes right through the middle of town.” Much of that is from trucks traveling through to Kentucky, he said.”

We’re talking here about $1.2 billion so that trucks going to Kentucky can avoid a few traffic lights.

Apart from the wasted tax dollars, this allocation of funds directly takes money out of your pocket, both in vehicle repairs and increased insurance costs:

“In 2013, 15 percent of major Ohio roads were in poor condition, causing Ohio motorists to incur $3.3 billion – $413 each – per year in extra costs related to driving on roads in need of repair.”

Consider that $413 an additional tax you pay to live in a state that’s prioritized a useless bypass vs. smooth pavement where traffic actually exists. The bypass is ahead of schedule though, so it’s not all bad.

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