By David Tanner
and Keith Goble
Land Line staff
Truckers and other concerned individuals united in mid-April to challenge the lease of the Indiana Toll Road to a foreign consortium - a lease that would make higher toll rates inevitable.
Indiana residents - including OOIDA member Randy Nace of Monticello, IN - filed suit April 12 to challenge the constitutionality of the "Major Moves" plan launched by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels.
Major Moves includes leasing the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road to a Spanish-Australian consortium, Cintra-Macquarie, for 75 years. The consortium would collect tolls and profit from the road - which is part of Interstates 80 and 90 for most of its length - in exchange for $3.85 billion up front for the state to use on other projects.
"I don't think there should be a private toll road," Nace told Land Line. "When it comes to the economy of this country, the lifeblood of this country is the interstate highways. You can't move freight fast enough on state roads . You've got to go across that freeway."
The Indiana General Assembly narrowly approved the bill allowing for the lease deal - mostly along party lines - in March. Gov. Daniels signed the lease April 12, the same day the opposition filed the challenge lawsuit in Circuit Court in St. Joseph County in northern Indiana.
The lease is the biggest chunk of the Republican governor's 10-year, $10.6 billion statewide construction plan.
Steve Bonney, an Indiana farmer and activist, launched a Web site, majormoves.org, to gain publicity and donations for the challenge fund.
"I'm just an average citizen that feels the call of duty most of the time," he said. "I just reacted to this and said now is the time. This is stoppable."
In addition to Bonney and Nace, the plaintiffs who filed the suit are John Gibson, Anita Gibson, Tom Pietrzak, Clarinda Nace, June Nace and the not-for-profit group, Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana Inc.
The defendants named are the governor, Indiana Treasurer Tim Berry, the Indiana DOT, the Indiana Finance Authority, ITR Concession Co. and Statewide Mobility Partners, which is Cintra-Macquarie.
The court action is going to take money - up to $200,000 - for the challenge and possible appeals.
Through private donations, and a $10,000 contribution from the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, the Indiana group met the initial goal of $40,000 to file the lawsuit by the state-imposed deadline.
"Half of our money came from the trucking community," Bonney said, adding that he got support from all over North America after Nace suggested he speak to radio personality Dave Nemo on XM Satellite Radio's Open Road Channel 171. "It really shows it's a national issue here and not just a local issue."
The constitutional challenge lies within Article 10, Section 2 of the Indiana Constitution, Bonney said.
"It has to do with the Constitution, it has to do with government responding to the will of the people, and those are the issues that resonate with everybody," Bonney said.
He said the groups are not political, adding that the lease is a case of the governor going against the will of Indiana residents.
"They took an oath of office to uphold the constitutions of the state of Indiana and the United States, and we're just here to see that they meant it when they took that oath," Bonney said.
Another challenge organizer, Dave Menzer of the Citizens Action Coalition, explained the specifics of the legal challenge on the "Land Line Now" radio show on XM Channel 171.
"In this instance," Menzer said, "we're taking something that was paid for by a bond sale and turning it around and leasing it for 75 years - leasing it at a loss over that period of time - to the benefit of this private consortium."
Cintra and Macquarie have partnered to profit from the toll road, offering it to their investors as a money-making opportunity. The same consortium already has 99-year leases for the Chicago Skyway and the 407 Express Toll Route in metropolitan Toronto, Canada.
Cintra has also partnered with Zachry Construction Corp. of Austin, TX, to implement the first 600-mile phase of the Trans-Texas Corridor.
Bonney and Menzer both said they believe more privatization could mean a slippery slope for state and federal governments.
"For a short-term influx of cash over time, the taxpayers are losing out," Menzer said. "People driving across the (Indiana) toll road are going to lose out."
The transfer of the toll road to Cintra-Macquarie is scheduled to take place around June 30, Indiana Department of Transportation spokesman Gary Abell told Land Line.
Toll rates are slated to increase this summer along the toll road for large trucks.
Sometime next year, drivers of passenger vehicles will pay on average 73 percent more.
The rate for tractor-trailers traveling from the Illinois line to Ohio will increase from $14.55 to $18 this year. The rate will climb to $22.50 in 2007; $27.25 in 2008; and $32 in 2009.
Passenger vehicle rates for driving the same distance will rise from $4.65 to $8 in about 15 months. No other increases are planned for passenger vehicles until at least 2010. At that time, Abell said the consortium can raise tolls annually by an amount equal to the greater of 2 percent, the gross domestic product or the Consumer Price Index.
Electronic tolling eventually will be installed allowing motorists with transponders in their vehicles to bypass toll booths and then be sent bills. They will pay the current toll rate until 2015.
Abell said that discounts are not available for trucks. But he said that after four years, it will be up to the foreign consortium to decide whether to offer truckers price breaks.
That comment only fueled the opposition. Bonney and Menzer are continuing the campaign to build the lawsuit fund.
"We're going to be up against some deep pockets," Menzer said. "There's a lot of money on the table. They're certainly going to be coming in with attorneys and experts from the other side."
OOIDA, with more than 139,000 members and counting in the small-business world of trucking, has taken a hard line against the toll road lease, particularly against the provisions that will raise truck tolls.
"We feel like the citizens of Indiana were basically wronged by this decision on the part of the governor that clearly went against the citizens of Indiana, and what most citizens think would be appropriate in this area," OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer said. "And we certainly do not think that U.S. infrastructure should be put up on the auction block for companies from around the world to bid on."
Nace said everything that moves by truck will be affected by increased shipping costs realized through tolls.
"This will all eventually end up in the grocery store shelves and the lumberyard," he said.
OOIDA Life Member Carl Shoemaker opposes the toll road lease for that very reason.
"They forget that we're not only truckers, but we're consumers too," he said.
Shoemaker personally donated money to the challenge fund when he saw OOIDA make its $10,000 donation.
"We should be able to take care of ourselves and stand on our own two feet," he said.
"This is a slap in the face to everybody who pays taxes."
To learn more about the challenge of the Indiana Toll Road lease, visit the majormoves.org. You can donate to the ongoing legal challenge online or by calling the Citizens Action Coalition at (317) 205-3535 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EDT, Monday through Friday.