- Associated Press - Monday, May 25, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ohio’s largest single roadway construction project and first public-private partnership for a highway will cost taxpayers nearly three times its announced price tag of $429 million, according to financial documents.

The Columbus Dispatch reports (https://bit.ly/1LyKLUA ) the state will pay about $1.2 billion over the life of a 35-year agreement to build and maintain the Southern Ohio Veterans Memorial Highway, a 16-mile link between U.S. 23 and U.S. 52 that will help drivers skirt the Ohio River city of Portsmouth.

The initial figure given by state officials left out interest, highway maintenance, financial-transaction costs and other charges developers incur.

An Ohio Department of Transportation spokesman said the department routinely refers only to construction costs when talking about the amount of money spent on a project.

The highway, also known as the Portsmouth Bypass, is Ohio’s test case for public-private partnerships in the state.

ODOT officials say that paying for the project over time rather than waiting for enough money to become available is smart because the road will spur economic development in beleaguered southern Ohio.

But experts say that this project - and future roads built using debt - could hamper the state’s ability to maintain its construction program.

Most public-private partnerships have a dedicated revenue stream, such as tolls, that will pay for them. Increasingly, states are dedicating gas-tax money to pay for projects over time. If too much debt accumulates on their books, that could slow construction on other projects.

Robert Poole, transportation director at the Reason Foundation, said roads built through public-private partnerships tend to last longer. Poole believes contractors have an incentive to build a road that doesn’t require much maintenance because they must patch potholes and resurface lanes.

Construction on the highway is to begin this summer and finish in 2019.

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Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, https://www.dispatch.com

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