Monday, May 12, 2003

Firms pay for roads? Maybe

Tax change would enable it

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Imagine the reconstructed intersection of Beechmont Avenue and Five Mile Road in Anderson Township being called the "BP Crossroads" after a major reconstruction of the area is paid for in part due to a tax-free contribution from the station's corporate owner.

Sound farfetched? Not to local transportation planners.

The Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments is trying to get federal legislation enacted that would allow private companies to contribute to road projects.

The idea requires changing the federal tax code to allow companies to claim such donations as business expenses. But the result could be quicker action on second-tier projects that often languish for years.

"We're looking to produce cash, plain and simple," said OKI executive director Jim Duane , whose agency conceived the idea.

Public/private transportation partnerships aren't new. Developers often donate land to create roads and entrances to their sites. And the trucking industry recently helped pay for an exclusive freight toll lane in West Virginia.

But the OKI proposal would take such partnerships into local neighborhoods.

"We're not looking for funds to rebuild the Brent Spence Bridge, for example," said OKI communications director Allen Freeman, the architect of the proposalOKI officials say they have not yet found a congressional sponsor for their proposal. .

"This is something that is completely original and should spur a lot of debate," said Fred Abousleman, transportation director for the National Association of Regional Councils.

One concern about the project: the private sector may try to use their donation to influence a project's design in ways that might not be best for the public transportation system, said, Deron Lovaas, deputy director of the smart growth and transportation program of the Natural Resources Defense Council. But OKI officials, who envision the congested Five Mile/Beechmont intersection as a prime possibility for such a "zone," say public officials would always have the last say.

Glen Brand, the Sierra Club's Cincinnati-based Midwest representative, predicts the concept would aggravate concerns about suburban sprawl.

But Kenton County Judge-executive Richard Murgatroyd said the program could spur redevelopment in established urban areas.


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