Kasich will have MANY problem if he tries to lease the turnpike, but two of the biggest will be: 1. a serious fight from the Teamsters which represents turnpike maintenance workers and toll collectors and 2. a backlash from Northern Ohioans who spent decades paying tolls to drive on the turnpike while helping to keep it the “best maintained road in the state”.
It’s possible Kasich will attempt to offer the unionized turnpike employees some kind of crappy deal, guaranteeing a certain percentage of them will keep their jobs for a number of years in exchange for not mobilizing against his privatization plans. But if the beliefs and opinions of a top ODOT manager turn out to be representative of the Kasich administration, then the Governor is planning to throw them under the bus.
Northern Ohioans are a different story – mainly because they will make up a good portion of the electorate in 2014 when Kasich is running for reelection. Which is why Kasich directed his PR and Marketing firm to spend months interviewing and focus group-testing different messages with Ohio residents who live along the Turnpike.
According to a report by the consultants, obtained by Plunderbund in a public record request, “the majority” of people interviewed expressed “skepticism … regarding the potential leasing option”. And rightfully so. There are A LOT of problems with leasing the Ohio Turnpike.
The impact of higher tolls, “local traffic diversion” and worries ” that any funds generated will be distributed statewide at the expense of northern Ohio” topped the list of concerns expressed by those interviewed.
There was, however, one message that seemed to resonate well with all of the interviewees: “the potential for free local tolls for trips less than 30 miles in length”.
Assuming Kasich’s team can figure out a way to extract the most money from a turnpike lease or bonding scheme while still offering free local tolls (for a few years) to residents who regularly travel short distances, we assume this will be the first announcement they make. Possibly tomorrow.
We also assume the free tolls will be tied to use of electronic tolling with an EZ Pass, meaning fewer unionized employees will be required to handle the traffic from local residents.
It’s a win-win-win for Kasich: screw the unions, avoid totally pissing off Northern Ohioans who use the turnpike, all while extracting a shit-ton of cash from the turnpike to help fund his reelection campaign.