State lawmakers consider privatization of Illinois Tollway

| Friday, April 07, 2006

An Illinois legislative panel this week opened up a process that could lead to the state’s pay-as-you-go roads being put up for bid to private groups.

The General Assembly’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability voted Tuesday, April 4, to seek proposals from financial experts to determine how much a lease of the 274-mile Illinois Tollway might earn the state.

The idea was first unveiled in January when state Sen. Jeff Schoenberg, D-Evanston, said he would call on the bipartisan forecasting arm to see how much the state could gain by leasing all or part of the tollway system.

Schoenberg pointed out that the 75-year lease of the Indiana Toll Road netted the Hoosier State $3.85 billion and the 99-year lease of the Chicago Skyway brought in $1.83 billion. Both are now under the control of foreign companies based in Spain and Australia. He said those dollar figures could translate into a $14.6 billion price tag for the tollway.

“The Illinois Tollway is now more attractive than ever to investors,” Schoenberg, co-chairman of the commission, told chicagobusiness.com. The road system is “well-positioned to bring Illinois to address some of its most critical needs,” including paying pensions and pulling in federal road dollars.

Deputy Gov. Bradley Tusk recently said the governor has other priorities at the toll highway authority, the Chicago Tribune reported. Instead, Gov. Rod Blagojevich has his sights set on providing open-road tolling and the extension of Interstate 335.

The legislative panel set a May 5 deadline for revenue projection bids, Reuters reported. Tentative plans call for a winning bidder to be determined on May 15.

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