New DOT chief to examine selling off Indiana Toll Road

| 1/4/2005

Indiana’s Gov.-elect Mitch Daniels has tapped a retired businessman to lead a Department of Transportation reorganization expected to include examining the possibility of selling the Indiana Toll Road.

Calling the department “one of the worst-run agencies in state government,” Daniels said he believes retired Alcoa executive Thomas Sharp, 57, is the right man to turn around the agency.

Sharp, of Indianapolis, is a Navy-trained civil engineer with 25 years of experience in project planning, implementation and plant management. He spent much of his career overseeing several multimillion-dollar projects.

Daniels and Sharp identified the extension of Interstate 69 between Indianapolis and Evansville as a high priority and said money must be found for that and other essential projects.

Sharp said establishing more toll roads might be one way to raise money.

“We’ve been successful on the Indiana Toll Road, of course, and we need to be creative and translate our experience in that area to see if it has a reasonable play to close this funding gap in order to provide more highways,” Sharp told local media.

Nothing is off the table, Daniels added, including the possibility of selling the toll way – also known as I-80/90.

The Indiana Toll Road runs 157 miles from Illinois to Ohio across northern Indiana and handles more than 52 million vehicles a year. Total revenue for the road is about $85 million a year, with about half of that from truckers.

According to the South Bend Tribune, selling the toll road could net the state as much as $5 billion.

Proceeds from a sale of the road, Daniels said, could fund new projects.

Daniels’ plan to sell the toll route comes only months after Chicago Mayor Richard Daley signed a 99-year lease giving control of the Chicago Skyway to an Australian and Spanish consortium.

The foreign group, Cintra-Macquarie, paid $1.8 billion in cash on hand at delivery to operate and maintain the skyway in exchange for the tolls collected along the 7.9-mile route. The skyway runs between the Indiana state line to the Dan Ryan Expressway on Chicago’s south side.

Chicago officials plan to use the proceeds for such projects as new road construction.

“This is happening all over the country and the world,” said Daniels. “It is just something that we have been slow to imitate here in Indiana.”

Sharp will take over the highway department after Daniels is sworn into office on Jan. 10.