Small towns hit big by lack of federal highway funding

Rocky River, Ohio, is a sleepy city of approximately 20,000 that sits on Lake Erie just 10 miles west of Cleveland, with the Rocky River running south at its eastern border, but due to a lack of federal transportation fund dollars, the city’s infrastructure is suffering.

“Overall I would give our city’s roads Cs and Ds,” Mayor Pamela Bobst said in a recent telephone interview with TI News Daily. “None of our roads are failing but businesses, especially new businesses, look at our roads. They want to know they can get their trucks in and out. They’re not the best and we’ve heard about it.”

That said, Whole Foods is building a new store in the city and new business is always a boon for economic development, but it is also a double-edged sword.

New business means more traffic on roads that are already in need of repair.

The federal Highway Trust Fund is due to expire May 31 and could be insolvent by fall. Industry watchdogs don’t think that will happen, but do fear U.S. Congress will do what it has continued to do the last several years, which is transfer monies from the general fund to the highway trust fund.

And there simply is not enough to go around.

“Due to the lack of funding, we don’t have one project slated or can slate a project without federal funding dollars,” Bobst said. 

The mayor explained that it is possible to borrow to fund road projects, but the city is wary of going into debt.

City residents did recently approve a small tax increase to fund road projects. 

“They understand the work that needs to be done,” Bobst said.

The city does its best to keep the roads in as good repair as possible, but that usually involves patchwork instead of repaving, she said.

Not knowing if funds are going to be available makes planning difficult.

“We have road and infrastructure plans going out in the five- to 10-year time frame," she said. "In a perfect world if we knew we’d receive federal dollars we could then put money aside and plan.”

Bobst said increasing the gas tax and tying it to inflation is the best way to address the highway trust fund shortfall.

That, Bobst said, is why she’s supporting legislation recently proposed by one of her city’s legislators, Rep. Jim Renacci (R-OH). If passed, the Bridge to Sustainable Infrastructure Act  would index gas and diesel user fees to inflation.

“Passing the legislation would provide appropriate funding, and allows us to plan and coordinate other projects more efficiently,” Bobst said. “I’m excited about the possibilities.”

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City of Rocky River 21012 Hilliard Blvd Rocky River, OH 44116

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