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State#039;s highways are of major importance

Tribune editorial staff

Ohio's hopes to rebuild its aging interstate and finance other Ohio's hopes to rebuild its aging interstate and finance other major road projects could come down to whether or not Congress is willing to change funding formulas.

Gov. Bob Taft announced Tuesday a $5 billion plan to rebuild portions of Ohio's road system. The 10-year plan would focus on improving congested and dangerous roads, improving bridges and completing rural routes.

Half the plan, or $250 million a year, would be paid with money raised through the three-year, 6 cent increase in the state gas tax that lawmakers approved in March. The other half would come from the federal government in the form of increased money returned to Ohio for the use of ethanol and from the federal gas tax, which has yet to be approved.

Ohio is asking the federal government that 95 cents out of every dollar Ohioans pay in gas taxes be returned to the state. Currently, Ohio only gets approximately 89 cents, with the rest going to states with lower tax bases. Ohio's Congressional delegation, led by Republican Sen. George Voinovich, is working on that now.

Ohio also is asking the federal government to tax ethanol at the same rate as regular gasoline. Ethanol is taxed at a lower rate and, because Ohio uses a high percentage of ethanol in its gasoline, the amount of taxes it can collect is lower.

The ethanol fix would bring another $150 million a year in gas tax money to Ohio, and raising the reimbursement to 95 cents would bring in around $100 million, according to ODOT. Both proposals, we feel, are justified.

Ohio is one of 24 "donor states" -- those that pay more in federal gas taxes than they get back. In other words, Ohio has donated money to other states for the construction and upkeep of those states' highways.

Ohio has the 10th-largest highway network in the country and the fifth-highest traffic volume despite being 35th in geographical size. It is time the state is recognized as a major transportation hub and is given the resources it needs to keep the system up to snuff.