Toll Talk
Not all states want toll roads
Some officials, commissions say no to privatization deals

By David Tanner
staff writer

Despite the trend of some state government officials welcoming private investment in their infrastructure, some elected officials and appointed commissions have been opposing privatization efforts on American toll roads.

The Indiana state government recently leased the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road to a private investment group, one year after the same investment group began collecting tolls on the Chicago Skyway in the first private lease of an existing part of the U.S. Interstate system.

ITR Concession Co., a Spanish-Australian consortium of Cintra-Macquarie, paid $3.85 billion to Indiana in June for the right to collect tolls and maintain the Indiana Toll Road for 75 years.

The lease revenue has been earmarked to narrow the funding gap in the state’s road budget, according to Gov. Mitch Daniels’ “Major Moves” transportation plan.

But not all state governments are taking the bait of up-front cash in exchange for long-term privatization deals.

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich said in June that he would not lease the state’s 274-mile Illinois Tollway to private investors.

“I have no interest in giving up the Tollway when we’re doing so many good things,” Blagojevich told the Chicago Tribune. “I have no interest in turning it over to private investors.”

A preliminary study showed the Illinois Tollway could have fetched up to $15 billion with a private lease.

In California, several city governments and appointed commissions have passed resolutions to oppose the Foothill Toll Road, which is proposed to bisect San Onofre State Beach parkland.

Los Angeles, San Francisco and Oceanside city councils moved to oppose the toll road for environmental reasons, and the San Diego City Council had a similar motion on the table at press time.

President Bush signed a highway bill in August 2005 that paved the way for privatization deals like the ones that have been proposed in more than 20 states.

Before leaving office, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta said that privately operated toll roads should be viewed as viable alternatives to congested highways around the nation.

Some elected officials at the national level are not in favor of the Bush administration strategy on private-sector investment.

“I am not enamored of public-private financing issues. I am not enamored and am very much opposed to toll systems,” U.S. Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-MN, stated for the Congressional Record on June 13 in a comment about the 50th anniversary of the interstate system.

“They will not be a sustained program,” Oberstar said. “Toll roads, toll bridges would not have brought us the interstate highway system that we have, we enjoy today. That was a marvel of the industrial world.”