Ottawa County Engineer Ronald Lajti Jr. says area roads and bridges face special funding and maintenance challenges.
“Our county, like every other one in the state, has private, municipal, township, county and state roads. Many people don’t really know the difference, nor do they care. They just want good roads to drive on.
“The creation of the new Ottawa County Transportation Improvement District (OCTID), though, can help to address some of those funding challenges.
“To borrow a statement from Rep. Steve Arndt, we’re a county of roughly 41,000 residents, but during the summer tourism season, on any given weekend we’ll have 250,000-plus people visiting the area, and driving on our county roads. That’s a lot of wear and tear and an incredible amount of additional traffic to move safely and efficiently.”
Making it difficult to maintain highways and byways at an acceptable level has been state legislation that, until this year, had not provided an increase in infrastructure funding since 2003. With virtually the same budgetary numbers over the last 16 years, Lajti pointed out, Ottawa County local agencies, and even ODOT, had not received more funds to work with while road maintenance prices skyrocketed.
“It was kind of funny how the Transportation Improvement District (TID) conversation started,” said Lajti. “After I took office in 2015, I was at a transportation seminar in Perrysburg, and there was a small piece about TIDs in the program.
“While driving back from the seminar, Jamie Beier Grant of the Ottawa County Improvement Corporation called to ask if I had ever heard of a TID. She had been at a conference in Columbus, and the topic had been brought up there, as well.”
TIDs have been around for several years, but Lajti and Grant had never really heard of them. From there they began discussions with Rep. Arndt, the Ottawa County Commissioners and ODOT to begin aligning things to create their local board in order to become one of 30 other TIDs recognized in Ohio.
“Today there are 40 TIDs in Ohio,” said Lajti. “TID’s are unique in that they have the opportunity to collaborate projects and funds across political boundaries. A TID is basically a contracting authority that is both corporate and political. It is essentially organized to develop projects using innovative funding and implementation approaches for improving the existing transportation system within a county.”
TIDs are designed to be cooperative in nature, encourage collaboration between governing entities, promote economic development, and allow for and encourage public and private partnerships and lend access to state funds, explained Lajti.
Lajti said the state currently sets aside $4 to $4.5 million dollars annually to be distributed throughout Ohio for projects submitted for assistance through the various TIDs.
“The maximum any one project can receive from this state fund is $250,000,” said Lajti. “Project selection is based on collaboration of outside project funds, co-sponsors, project scope, and a strong emphasis on economic impact.”
Given these parameters, Lajti and the TID constituents thought the State Route 53 corridor from State Route 2 to the northern tip of Catawba Island would be the ideal place to start making improvements.
“There has been an incredible amount of conversation about this thoroughfare. It really was brought back to the forefront in 2016 when Ottawa County Sheriff Steven Levorchick called a meeting with local business owners about the stifling traffic congestion and accidents he was dealing with in this area,” Lajti explained.
Sheriff Levorchick reorganized a second meeting at Catawba Island Club with Sen. Randy Gardner, ODOT District 2 Deputy Director Patrick McColley, Lajti, Township Trustee representatives Gary Mortis and Keith Heilman, and several business owners.
“The local cry for help was obvious to us all, and every officials recognized the need for improvements, but it always comes down to funding,” said Lajti. “By creating our OCTID, our board will be able to leverage state and local funds with private partners’ capital investments, such as USG, Miller Boat Line, and several others, in order to address the numerous corridor issues. A project such as this takes time to plan and organize, but I feel like we now have all of the puzzle pieces on the table. If we can just secure the funding, we should be able to put it all together.
Lajti also went on to say that this is not the only project OCTID plans to work on. He said that the board has some administrative things to work out yet, but they hope to meet quarterly throughout the year to stay on target to address other transportation issues county wide.