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House Democrats Call Transportation Budget An Economic Win For Ohio, Boost to Improving Rail Safety Measures

HB 23 passed the Ohio House with unanimous support from the Democratic Caucus
March 1, 2023
Democratic Newsroom

COLUMBUS – Ohio House Democrats today celebrate the passage of the bipartisan Ohio Transportation Budget (HB 23) by the House of Representatives. The budget prioritizes public transportation funding, improved railway safety measures and funding of more than $7 billion over the next two years for statewide highway construction projects. It passed with unanimous Democratic Caucus support. 

“This is what putting people over politics looks like,” said Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington). “The priorities and investments in the bipartisan transportation budget are, at its core, investments in people– Ohio’s most valuable resource. These infrastructure and rail-safety workforce investments ensure every working family has the opportunities needed to prosper no matter their zip code, which in the long run will make Ohio’s economy stronger, will attract more businesses and jobs, and make our state more competitive.” 

“As Ranking Member of Finance, I am grateful to support this major jobs bill for the State of Ohio. The bipartisan transportation budget puts people over politics by making targeted investments in getting people to work. Whether it’s supporting public transit, appropriating billions for the Brent Spence Bridge, authorizing new studies on passenger rail, or providing greater tax fairness when it comes to hybrid vehicle fees, House Bill 23 will help move Ohio forward,” said Rep. Sweeney (D-Cleveland), Ranking Member of the Ohio House Finance Committee. “Passing significant, commonsense rail safety language will go a long way toward boosting public confidence that the state will do everything in its power to prevent future railway disasters like the catastrophic derailment in East Palestine. By working with the Federal Government, we can help protect not only the public and our communities but also the workers running the trains. This is the furthest that bipartisan rail safety policies have gotten in 30 years and we must see them through, because the state does have an important role to play here.”

“This Transportation budget takes a significant step forward in prioritizing rail safety in the State of Ohio,” said Rep. Skindell (D-Lakewood), Ranking Member of the Finance Sub. Committee on Transportation. “We must continue to pass legislation that puts Ohioans' safety and well-being first, while providing equitable investments in our communities.”

Other Democratic Caucus priorities in HB 23 include:

Public Transportation

Public Transportation funding

  • Maintains state funding at $37M/FY and maintains $33M/FY Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) flexible funding program.

Ohio Workforce Mobility Partnership Program

  • Creates the Ohio Workforce Mobility Partnership Program to provide grants to Regional Transit Authorities (RTAs) for workforce mobility initiatives. 

Railroad Safety

Wayside Detectors

  • Requires Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) and Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) to work with each railroad company doing business in Ohio to ensure that the wayside detector systems used by those companies are operational, effective, and current. 
  • Specifies the criteria that PUCO, ODOT, and the company must consider while doing so.
  • Requires immediate notification of a defect to the train operator under certain circumstances.
  • Requires PUCO and ODOT to investigate the safety practices of any railroad that does not work with them in good faith, and to issue a report to the Federal Railroad Administration recommending enforcement action against a company if the results of their investigation show that it is not in compliance with federal safety standards. 

Two-Person Crew

  • Requires a freight train or light engine to have at least a two-person crew. 
  • Permits PUCO to assess a civil penalty against a person who violates this requirement.
  • Requires Attorney General's Office to (AGO) bring a civil action to collect the penalty when PUCO requests AGO to do so.
  • Specifies that the two-person crew requirement for trains or light engines in the bill is solely related to safety, including ensuring that a train or light engine is not left without a functional crew person due to a medical emergency.
  • Provides that the two-person crew section no longer applies if the federal government adopts a requirement that a train or light engine used in connection with the movement of freight in Ohio must have a crew of at least two individuals.

Hazardous Material Reporting

  • Requires PUCO and the Ohio EPA to prepare and submit a written report to the General Assembly, within 90 days of the bill's effective date, pertaining to the transportation of hazardous materials and hazardous waste.

Rural Highway Construction Fund

  • Transfers $1 billion to the Rural Highway Fund and re-appropriates the available balance for FY 2025.
  • Requires the fund to be used to provide supplemental funding for existing rural highway construction projects on the Transportation Review Advisory Council (TRAC), under the Major/New Construction Program.
  • Specifies that 80% of this appropriation amount be used for rural highway construction projects, and the remaining 20% be used to provide any required local matching funds necessary for those projects. 

Other Notable Provisions

Brent Spence Bridge

  • Allocates $3 billion in both federal and state funding, including funds from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, to Brent Spence Bridge Corridor Project. Requires that all spending related to the Brent Spence Bridge Corridor Project be documented in the state's accounting system (OAKS) and made visible in the Ohio State and Local Government Expenditure Database (the Ohio Checkbook website).

Strategic Transportation and Development Analysis/Studies

  • The bill creates a Strategic Transportation and Development Analysis to be used for a statewide study of the Ohio transportation system in collaboration with the Department of Development and the Governor's Office of Workforce Transformation.

Ohio Rail Commission

  • Authorizes the Ohio Rail Development Commission (ORDC) or its designees to construct and operate an intercity conventional or high speed passenger transportation system under ORDC’s authority. Requires that the plan for the system provide for the connection of any points in Ohio and nearby states rather than only for the connection of Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati and any points in between, as under current law. 

Electric Vehicles

  • Beginning January 1, 2024, reduces from $200 to $100, the additional registration fee applicable to plug-in hybrid electric motor vehicles.

The Transportation Bill now heads to the Ohio Senate for consideration.