Ralph Nader blasts Indiana for privatizing toll road

| 2/9/2006

Consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader has found a new cause – battling the privatization of America’s toll roads.

Nader fired off a letter to Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels on Wednesday, Feb. 8, criticizing that state’s plan to lease its toll road to a Spanish-Australian consortium for 75 years in exchange for $3.85 billion.

In an interview Thursday with “Land Line Now,” Nader said the plan wouldn’t work for several reasons, not the least of which was the length of the contract.

“A 75-year lease for a management policy is crazy,” he said. “Who knows what’s going to happen in 75 years? Imagine if some down payment in 1931 was given to the state of Indiana for something that wasn’t going to expire until 2006. Look at the changes. It’s not a good deal. It’s a bad deal, and I think Mitch Daniels made a bad pitch.”

Nader said the deal also raises security concerns by allowing an American highway to be run by a foreign company.

“The interstate highway system was established by President Eisenhower on the grounds of national security, so it really is remarkable that a state here and a state there can start privately outsourcing its own state turnpikes to foreign companies whose management and shareholders we’re not fully cognizant of and not have a real public debate on it before it’s rushed through the state legislature in Indiana for approval,” he said.

Another concern is the tolls themselves.

Nader said the deal could give the private company the power to raise tolls whenever it wants to, unless more government oversight is in place – something he doesn’t see happening.

“The regulation of tolls by the state is presided over by a governor who really doesn’t believe in regulation, philosophically,” he said. “So I think motorists and trucking companies are warranted in being very concerned about the spiraling tolls that will proceed.”

The bigger picture, Nader said, is just how far privatization will go. He said it’s already taken over many functions in Iraq, such as repairing weaponry and logistical services.

“There seems to be no line drawn between a public governmental function accountable to the people and a private, multinational private function that is not accountable to the people,” he said.

Nader said he is urging the Indiana Senate to take its time in considering this proposal, and not rush it through as the House did.

“There’s a lot of questions that need to be answered and the Indiana Senate should not rush this through by mid-February,” he said. “They should have public hearings, unlike the house that rammed it through lickety split.”

– By Terry Scruton, senior writer

Staff Writer Reed Black contributed to this report.