CHICAGO — The Ohio Department of Transportation is taking bids from firms interested in advertising at its Interstate rest stops and welcome areas to help raise funds to whittle down a $1.6 billion budget hole that officials say will delay projects for years.

The advertising program is the first to be launched under the state’s new Division of Innovative Delivery, a unit ODOT created earlier this year to raise new money from existing assets and headed by a public-private partnership veteran.

The new initiative would allow firms to advertise at the state’s 101 Interstate rest areas to raise money that Ohio would use to offset the $30 million to $50 million it spends annually for upkeep.

“This new program will help do two things — reduce the amount of money ODOT spends on rest-area maintenance and generate new money we can use to pay for some of the major construction projects communities have told us they want,” ODOT director Jerry Wray said in a statement.

The division is also eyeing a number of P3s to help plug the budget hole, including the sale or long-term lease of various assets and entering into P3s to finance new projects.

The state is currently considering selling or leasing the Ohio Turnpike as well as its 59 non-Interstate rest areas, and is eying P3s for four of the state’s largest transportation infrastructure projects.

The projects include work on the Brent Spence Bridge on the Ohio River from Cincinnati to northern Kentucky, a long-stalled project, as well as an interchange on Interchange 71 in Delaware County, a bypass in Scioto County and a second Innerbelt Bridge in Cleveland.

Gov. John Kasich, who took office in January 2011, spent much of his first year pushing legislation that would allow the state to lease or sell its assets to private firms. The governor has said he thinks the state can win as much as $2.4 billion with a long-term lease of the Turnpike.

In March, ODOT hired Jim Riley to head the Division of Innovative Delivery.

Riley joined the state from the Chicago office of the consulting firm Halcrow, where he was vice president of highway infrastructure, traffic and tolls.

The state last November hired KPMG to act as consultant to consider privatization of the Turnpike, which is 241 miles long, Ohio’s only toll road and a key national connector. The firm is expected to complete the study in June.

ODOT officials warned in January that  the department faced a $1.6 billion budget shortfall that could mean delaying key construction projects.

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