NKYUnited Requests Investigation of Comments Made by OKI Executive Director Mark Policinski

March 2, 2015

OKI Regional Council of Governments

President Kevin Lynch

First Vice President T.C. Rogers

Second Vice President Kris Knochelmann
720 E. Pete Rose Way, Suite 420
Cincinnati, Ohio 45202

 

BY FACSIMILE: (513) 621-9325

Re: Request for Investigation of Comments by Executive Director Mark Policinski

 

Dear President Lynch, Vice President Rogers, and Vice President Knochelmann:

Northern Kentucky United respectfully requests the Board of Directors of the Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments investigate whether Executive Director Mark Policinski led elected officials and civic leaders to incorrectly believe the U.S. Department of Transportation prioritizes projects with a tolling component over other projects that may be eligible for federal funding.

Background

On February 15, 2015 former Covington Mayor Chuck Scheper published an op-ed in the Cincinnati Enquirer and The River City News in which he asserted that transportation projects without tolls would receive lower priority from the U.S. Department of Transportation.[1]

On February 16, 2015, Northern Kentucky United sent an inquiry to the Office of Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of Transportation requesting verification of the statement. On February 17, 2015, Northern Kentucky United received a statement from Deputy Director for the Office of Public Affairs, Brian Farber. Mr. Farber referred us to an article that ran in the Cincinnati Enquirer in November 2014[2] as evidence that:

  “Foxx did not offer an opinion on whether he sees tolls as the best funding solution…The Secretary has not taken a position on whether or not there should be a toll for this bridge…the Secretary did not - and would not - take a position on whether the states should toll.  That is entirely a local decision.”

On February 19, 2015, Mr. Scheper informed Northern Kentucky United that the information came from Mr. Policinski. Specifically, Mr. Scheper indicated that Mr. Policinski told him the comments were made by Secretary Foxx “last June at a meeting in Louisville of the Natl Assn of Regional Councils in response to a direct question about the BSB.”

Meeting minutes from the OKI Board of Directors meeting June 12, 2014 indicate that comments from Secretary Foxx at the National Association of Regional Council conference in Louisville were a topic of conversation.[3]

On February 19, 2015, Mr. Farber, from the U.S. Department of Transportation, reiterated that Secretary Foxx does not have a position on tolling and the U.S. Department of Transportation does not prioritize projects based on tolling. Mr. Farber referenced several sections of 23 U.S.C. that govern the U.S. Department of Transportation’s policy on tolling of projects eligible for federal funding.

There is a general prohibition on the imposition of tolls on Federal-aid highways:[4]

“Except as provided in section 129 of this title with respect to certain toll bridges and toll tunnels, all highways constructed under the provisions of this title shall be free from tolls of all kinds.”

Under section 129, Congress does permit tolling of Federal-aid highways under limited circumstances.[5] There are many transportation projects that have received federal funding, or are eligible for federal funding, that do not meet the requirement for permissible tolling.

In addition, Mr. Farber referenced the TIFIA program with respect to the Brent Spence Bridge Project. The TIFIA statute says repayment of the credit shall be "in whole or in part, from tolls, user fees, or other dedicated revenue sources."[6] According to the Department of Transportation, a dedicated revenue source is interpreted as "tolls, user fees, special assessments, tax increment financing, and any portion of a tax or fee that produces revenues that are pledged for the purpose of retiring the debt on the project."[7]

According to Mr. Farber, the Secretary of Transportation and the U.S. Department of Transportation are “agnostic” on the dedicated revenue source for TIFIA applications.

On February 23, 2015, Mr. Policinski had a conversation with a representative of Northern Kentucky United regarding the comments by Mr. Scheper. When asked to clarify the comments, Mr. Policinski did not deny having told Mr. Scheper “that communities that do not include tolls will be at the bottom of the list.”

CONCLUSION

The language of the statutes and subsequent guidance from the U.S. Department of Transportation is quite clear. Secretary Foxx and the U.S. Department of Transportation do not prioritize projects based the inclusion of a tolling component in the project. The decision on which funding mechanism or “dedicated revenue source” is included is left entirely to the state or states proposing to undertake the project.

It should be noted that during his tenure as Mayor of Covington, Mr. Scheper was one of the signatories on the Memorandum of Agreement regarding adverse effect to the Lewisburg Historic District ((NRHP 93001165) in Covington, Kentucky. It is of the utmost importance that elected officials have accurate information when making decisions that impact their community and its residents.

As the region’s Metropolitan Planning Organization, the Ohio Kentucky Indiana Regional Council of Governments is responsible for communicating with elected officials and other important decision makers regarding federal funding for transportation projects.

In his position as Executive Director, Mark Policinski has a duty to ensure that any and all information given to the public on behalf of the organization accurately reflects both the policy of the U.S. Department of Transportation and statutory requirements of obtaining federal funding for the region’s transportation projects.

Given that the inaccurate information in Mr. Scheper’s op-ed was published by two widely distributed media outlets, we believe it is incumbent upon the organization’s Board of Directors to investigate the source of the misinformation, and immediately provide a correction to the public, elected officials, and important decision makers in the region.

 

Sincerely,

 

Joseph U. Meyer

JUM/mm

cc:        Secretary Mike Hancock, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet

            Chief District Engineer Rob Hans, District 6, Kentucky Transportation Cabinet



[1] Scheper, Chuck. "Ex-Covington Mayor Makes Case for Tolls." Cincinnati Enquirer, 15 Feb. 2015. Web. http://www.cincinnati.com/story/opinion/contributors/2015/02/15/ex-covington-mayor-makes-case-tolls/23452351/

[2] Desgreen, Dierdre. “Top Obama official: Ky. not ready on new bridge.” Cincinnati Enquirer, 19 Nov. 2014. Web. http://www.cincinnati.com/story/news/politics/2014/11/19/top-obama-official-ky-ready-new-bridge/19286625/

[4] 23 U.S.C. §301

[5] 23 U.S.C. §129

[6] 23 U.S.C. §§602(a)(6), 603(b)(3)(A)(i), and 604(b)(5)(A)(i)


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