The Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) is seeing an increase in fatalities from vehicle crashes.
In a recent update with the Henry County commissioners, ODOT District 2 Deputy Director Pat McColley said while serious injuries from vehicle crashes are decreasing statewide, fatalities have been rising.
“A lot of it’s attributable to when people are getting in these crashes — and they’re getting into less crashes — when they’re getting into these crashes, they’re more severe,” McColley said, adding while some features such as advanced warning systems and lane departure systems are making vehicles safer, other options such as touchscreens can increase distracted driving.
McColley added House Bill 283 is under consideration in the General Assembly and would make it a primary offense to drive while distracted if approved. He noted of the 14 states which enacted primary hands-free laws before 2018, the average decrease in their traffic fatality rates within two years after passing and enforcing the new laws was 15.3%.
Since 2015, the lowest number of fatalities in Ohio was recorded in 2018 at 1,068. That number rose to 1,155 in 2019 and 1,232 in 2020, which is the highest total in those six years.
McColley also shared information about statewide traffic volumes, which he noted were all up in January 2020 compared to 2019 prior to the beginning of orders related to the COVID-19 pandemic, at which point traffic volumes all fell.
When looking at revenue, McColley said, prior to the pandemic, the gas tax was approximately 25% diesel fuel and 75% unleaded. Looking at February 2022, truck traffic is up 14% compared to 2019, while car traffic volumes are down 10%.
“It’s important for a number of reasons,” McColley said. “One, you’ve seen these truck driver shortages, and some of that is part of the supply chain — we need things to get where they need to go.”
McColley added new federal regulations that require more training to get a CDL were originally approved several years ago and were initially delayed, but have since gone into effect.
“That’s going to compound things worse, and they haven’t put on another moratorium,” he said. “... We are starting to see that effect and that will be worse in a year and five years.
“There’s more demand on trucks ... and that added together creates an issue with the supply chain and also with our revenue stream,” McColley said in regard to gas tax revenue on the state level and county level. “A lot of (the county engineer’s) money comes from the gas tax and the more rural county you are, the more you rely on gas taxes.
“Every county gets the same amount,” he continued. “The motor vehicle registration system, that’s variable based on the size of your county.”
McColley added electric vehicle and hybrid registration fees totaled $26.4 million from January 2020-August 2021 in Ohio and noted that he has heard some opposition to the fees.
“I’ve heard some people say we shouldn’t be hurt because we’re being more environmentally friendly,” he said. “It’s great that you’re environmentally friendly, but that doesn’t help me take care of the roads.
“We all know the proliferation of electric vehicles will continue,” he continued. “This is going to be a greater stream of revenue every single year.”
McColley added there is also an argument regarding whether a flat fee for the hybrid and electric vehicles is fair, considering individuals who drive extensively pay the same fee as someone who drives sparingly.
“The gas tax used to be very, very fair — the bigger your vehicle, the more you had to pay, the more damage to the road,” he said, adding a potential vehicle miles driven tax might be fairer to the electric/hybrid fee, but there are numerous complications to that type of system.
McColley added there is federal funding coming to states to install electric vehicle charging stations, and Ohio will receive $40 million a year. He added they are working to determine how that program will work, including possibly public-private partnerships.
Overall, looking at construction costs, ODOT experienced a 7.9% increase in construction costs from the first quarter in 2021 to the fourth quarter.
Key cost drivers in 2021 included steel, oil, labor including increase in wages and open positions, resins/epoxy products, trucking costs and general supply-chain disruptions.
“Usually construction inflation is higher than regular inflation, so the value of the dollar has eroded quite a bit,” McColley said.
When looking specifically at steel — used in bridge beams, guardrails and rebar — category one prices went up 77% from November 2020 to November 2021, while category two prices went up 170% in that same time period.