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New Transportation Budget In Place

Chris Runyan
OCA President

Ohio’s biannual version of Dante’s Inferno, at least for the transportation community, has come to an end with the passage of the 2024-2025 Transportation Budget. OK – maybe that is a little overstated, but we know that at the beginning of every odd numbered year the Ohio General Assembly must consider and approve a biennial transportation budget on a very quick timeline. We also knew this transportation budget might be extra dicey considering construction inflation and the numerous failed attempts over 20 years by local government groups to increase their force account limits. Hoping to reach agreement outside of the time constrained and public legislative process, I met with County Engineers Association of Ohio (CEAO) Executive Director Dean Ringle in mid-December to begin discussions.

Subsequent sessions with CEAO representatives focused on OCA’s desire to move local government limits from monetary force account caps to what was termed “scope-of-work” caps. This would mirror the structure for ODOT force account limits and set parameters based on the length of a bridge, span of a culvert, length or square yards of roadway surface treatment or pavement widening width – factors that could be measured. This methodology more clearly and simply defines the line between work that public forces can do and work that must be competitively bid. In addition, it was inflation proof. During the months of January and February, OCA Chair-of-the-Board Meg Rietschlin, Board Member Tom Frantz, OCA’s Chris Engle and I had three meetings with CEAO representatives to hammer out details of how these measurements would work.

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Much of the group’s work was reflected in the House of Representatives’ version of the state transportation budget bill. However, the cap amount for culvert span did not meet with the approval of the CEAO. Recognizing this, the Senate removed the House proposal in its entirety and reverted to significant increases to the monetary caps. In addition, it gave local governments the option to set their own limits and provided for future inflationary adjustments indexes to be based on a national index instead of ODOT’s Construction Pricing Index. At this point, we recognized the inevitability of retaining monetary caps but found local government establishment of force account caps and utilizing a national index for inflationary adjustments to be unacceptable.

With the Friday, March 31 deadline fast approaching, negotiations for a monetary cap began in earnest on Monday of that week. By the end of the evening on Tuesday, negotiated amounts were settled upon. The following day, the conference committee, which is assigned to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions, signed off on all the proposed resolutions for discrepancies between both versions of the bill, including force account caps. Each chamber passed the final version on Thursday and Gov. DeWine signed the bill into law on Friday.

As in most negotiated outcomes, both parties moved further away from where they would like to end up until that “agreed upon” point was reached. Along the way there are tagalong proposals that came and went. We had to let go of the scope of work caps. Allowing local governments to set their own monetary cap amounts and abandoning ODOT’s Construction Cost Pricing Index in lieu of a national index went by the wayside as well. I have heard it said that creating legislation is like making sausage – you never really know what’s in the casing or how it got 2023 March/April 7 in there, but you still eat the sausage. From the perspective of the force account issue, the creation of this piece of the transportation budget truly did mirror the sausage-making process.

From a funding perspective, the 2024- 2025 Transportation Budget is the largest transportation funding package in Ohio’s history. This was driven by increases in federal and state funding and funding for the Brent Spence Bridge. Along with ODOT, gas tax funding is directed to programs at the Public Works Commission, Department of Development, Department of Natural Resources, Ohio Turnpike and local governments. (You can read more about the bill in the “Breaking News” section at the bottom of the home page of OCA’s website or in the “News” section of OCA’s app.)

We now have a strong funding source in place for the next two years that will provide increased opportunities for highway contractors to secure work. We can count on local governments growing into their newfound limits; however, force account caps do remain in place and penalties can be applied when those limits are exceeded. If you question the amount of work being performed by a local government, we are within our rights to request a copy of the form that must be completed by that local government to demonstrate the work they are performing is inclusive of all appropriate items of work and does not exceed the cap amount.

Our hope is that this budget will provide each of you with opportunities to identify and successfully compete for projects that will lead to the success of your company and support the livelihood of employees working for you.

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