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Cincinnati’s Highway Revolt on the Verge of Victory

Ohio State Rep. Tom Brinkman, a Republican who believes in lower taxes, is taking a principled stance against a wasteful highway project. Photo: Wikipedia
Ohio State Rep. Tom Brinkman, a Republican who believes in lower taxes, is taking a principled stance against a wasteful highway project. Photo: Wikipedia
Ohio State Rep. Tom Brinkman, a Republican who believes in lower taxes, is taking a principled stance against a wasteful highway project. Photo: Wikipedia

Could the end be near for the $1.4 billion Eastern Corridor highway project proposed for eastern Cincinnati? Language added to Ohio's transportation budget, which is being debated right now, would specifically "prohibit [Ohio DOT] from funding the Eastern Corridor Project in Hamilton County."

The amendment was introduced by Republican state lawmaker Tom Brinkman, who represents an eastern portion of Cincinnati. Brinkman told the Cincinnati Enquirer, "I am representing constituents who say, 'We don't want to tear down our communities.'" The boondoggle highway project is opposed by residents in Newton, Mariemont, Madisonville, and other towns east of Cincinnati.

The highway does have its defenders in the legislature. At a House Finance Committee meeting Monday, Democrat Denise Driehaus, who represents Cincinnati, signaled her concerns about Brinkman's amendment.

"It's been going on for about a decade and so there has been significant investment at both the state and local level," she said. "It seems to me this sets a precedent that the legislature prohibits ODOT from spending on a local project that has been vetted locally."

Ryan Smith, a Republican from southeastern Ohio, countered: "This project has gone on for a decade but I think everyone can agree that heading down the wrong path and continuing down the wrong path may be problematic." As to whether it would represent some kind of dangerous precedent for elected leaders to direct state transportation officials not to fund specific projects, he said, "This is the first time I can remember somebody asking not to be funded on a project." (For what it's worth, Governor Kasich added legislation to a previous budget that forbid state money from being spent on the Cincinnati Streetcar.)

You can watch the exchange between Driehaus and Smith here at about the 8:30 mark.

Driehaus promised a fight in the legislature, according to the Enquirer. A final decision from the committee is expected Thursday. But the Enquirer's Jason Williams wondered following the hearing whether the project was "on life support."

Even if Brinkman amendment is approved Thursday, Governor John Kasich could still choose to strike it with a line item veto.

Meanwhile, local residents are awaiting the results of a federally mandated mediation process between ODOT and highway opponents. The project could potentially be halted when that report is released in March as well.

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