Elizabeth Daigneau is GOVERNING's managing editor.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Over the past five years, Indiana has lost money on its toll road. In January, its fortunes changed: The state was offered $3.85 billion by a Spanish-Australian consortium for the right to maintain and operate the road. If the offer is approved by Indiana's legislature, the influx of cash would fund all of Indiana's road projects for the next 10 years with money to spare.
"A year from now you will see a number of projects competing for the money," says Charles E. Schalliol, director of Indiana's Office of Management and Budget. "We'll be the first state to have a fully funded 10-year transportation plan. For once Indiana is at the front of the curve, instead of the back."
The deal--similar to Chicago's $1.83 billion contract signed in 2004 for its 7.8 mile Skyway--would lease the 157-mile toll road to the same Cintra-Macquarie consortium for 75 years. Critics of the Indiana lease think it's a bad financial deal in the long run and wonder why Indiana is only getting twice as much as Chicago did for a tollway that is 20 times longer.
Meanwhile, the proposal has touched off a flurry of activity elsewhere. Just two days after Cintra-Macquarie's offer, state officials in Illinois and Harris County commissioners in Texas announced they were considering leasing their tollway systems. While less than 30 of the 5,244 miles of U.S. toll roads are currently run by private operators, there are $25 billion in private investments proposed or committed for new and existing toll roads in six states, according to the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association.