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Private Company Bids $3.8 Billion to Manage Toll Road

Sat January 28, 2006 - Midwest Edition
Mike Smith

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) A private company has bid $3.8 billion to lease and operate the Indiana Toll Road for 75 years, said Gov. Mitch Daniels.

The state received four final bids, but the one from Statewide Mobility Partners – a private, Spanish-Australian consortium – was clearly better than the others, Daniels said.

Jan. 20 was the deadline for companies to submit the lease bids.

“Every bid offered an enormous amount of money far beyond anything the state could generate on its own,” Daniels said.

Daniels has asked lawmakers for broad legal authority to sign a decades-long lease agreement for the 157-mi. (253 km) toll road.

He also has asked for authority to make the planned extension of Interstate 69 from Indianapolis to Evansville a toll road and lease it to a private venture.

The administration plans on its own to nearly double fares for cars on the Indiana Toll Road this year while boosting truck fares nearly fourfold over four years.

Combined, Daniels said, the fare increases and toll road lease could generate enough money to build 130 transportation projects across the state, at a cost of $2.8 billion over 10 years.

The additional $850 million from the Statewide Mobility Toll Road bid would be put in a trust fund for future projects.

Daniels said with such an exceptional bid for the toll road, he said he was very confident lawmakers would approve his overall highway plan, dubbed Major Moves.

The House Ways and Means Committee was expected to consider the 74-page bill Jan. 24, but members wanted to know how much the lease agreement would garner before a vote.

Chairman Jeff Espich said that the Statewide Mobility bid gave the overall plan an excellent chance of clearing his committee and advancing through the General Assembly.

Lawmakers face a Feb. 2 deadline to vote the legislation out of the House and send it to the Senate.

Skeptics question the wisdom of pushing such a long-term lease through the current short legislative session.

House Minority Leader Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, has opposed leasing the toll road, saying the state should not sell off its assets.

He said that instead of calling the plan Major Moves, it should be dubbed “risky business.”

The Daniels administration has said no other financing method, such as bonding or gas tax increases, can generate the huge lump-sum payout that is needed to jump-start road construction in every major highway corridor of the state.

Daniels’ administration outlined some details of the lease plan to lawmakers last week – including continued policing by state police and maintenance standards set by the Indiana Department of Transportation.

The state has promised 34 percent of net lease proceeds to the seven northern Indiana counties along the toll road’s route.

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