Does Ohio’s transportation policy, which leaves just 1 percent of its transportation budget for non-highway modes like transit, rail, and complete streets, violate the Americans with Disabilities Act?
This question needs to be asked with greater frequency and urgency as 9 percent of Ohio households are without cars. The Census says that number is growing as Ohio’s population ages and as the cost of driving rises. Yet more transportation tax dollars are used for roads that cause Ohio’s metropolitan populations to sprawl over ever larger geographic areas, making options to driving difficult and virtually sentencing more Ohioans to house arrest.
Any type of transportation development must include accommodation for persons with disabilities, in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). However, Ohio’s transportation policy itself fails to accommodate growing numbers of aging Ohioans as the Baby Boomers started turning 65 years old in 2011. The cumulative effect of the lack of accessible, affordable, and integrated transportation has created a social, economic, and medical crisis for Ohioans and their economy.
Ohio’s policymakers, be they in General Assembly or in the state’s metropolitan planning organizations, are failing to acknowledge this new reality. Legislators continue to devote only 1 percent of the state’s transportation budget to anything other than more roads. And metropolitan planning organizations like the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) fail to provide more than bare-bones (i.e. dial-a-ride vans) transportation alternatives to their citizens. MORPC recently announced $6.6 billion in new and improved roads for Columbus and its hinterlands. Yet its plan offers no transportation alternatives to congested roads or for those who will not drive, or cannot drive due to financial or physical disabilities.
“ADA is a civil rights law which says any facility or building must be equally accessible to a disabled person as it is to an able-bodied person. But if you’re disabled, you can’t get to all those ADA-compliant buildings as well as an able-bodied person can. That tells me Ohio’s entire transportation system and the laws which shaped it are not ADA-compliant. Ohio needs a mobility policy, not outdated laws designed to move more vehicles without consideration of alternatives,” said All Aboard Ohio Executive Director Ken Prendergast.
At issue is Ohio’s Constitution (Article XII, section 5a) which prohibits spending any state gas taxes on anything other than more roads (about 10 percent of federal gas taxes are spent on transit, rail and complete streets that are ADA-compliant and also have safe bike routes for children and commuters alike):
No moneys derived from fees, excises, or license taxes relating to registration, operation, or use of vehicles on public highways, or to fuels used for propelling such vehicles, shall be expended for other than costs of administering such laws, statutory refunds and adjustments provided therein, payment of highway obligations, costs for construction, reconstruction, maintenance and repair of public highways and bridges and other statutory highway purposes, expense of state enforcement of traffic laws, and expenditures authorized for hospitalization of indigent persons injured in motor vehicle accidents on the public highways. (Adopted November 4, 1947; effective January 1, 1948.)
“With the constitutional prohibition on using gas taxes and registration fees for anything but more roads, what other outcome can there be than to pour billions more tax dollars into an already overbuilt highway system while we can’t afford to maintain what we’ve got?” asked All Aboard Ohio President Bill Hutchison. “We are trapped into doing the same stupid things over and over and can’t change even if we want to. This is the stranglehold that prevents other solutions to traffic problems.”
Hutchison notes that if the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) spent a percentage of its annual budget equal to the percentage of households without cars, it would be providing about $250 million total in state and federal funding for non-highway transportation. Instead ODOT spends less than $20 million per year in state and federal funds on transit and rail modes.
Ironically, about 5 percent of state gas taxes (or $50 million per year) come from non-highway uses (recreation, construction, landscaping, etc). If ODOT used that to leverage an 80 percent federal match, Ohio could provide $250 million per year in state and federal funds for much-needed transit and rail development projects and services.