Governor interested in privatization of Illinois Tollway

| 4/27/2006

Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich appears to be singing a slightly different tune about putting the state’s pay-as-you-go roads up for bid to private groups. The revelation is in contrast to what Deputy Gov. Bradley Tusk told the Chicago Tribune early this year.

At the time, Tusk said the governor has other priorities to privatizing the toll highway authority. He said Blagojevich has his sights set on providing open-road tolling and the extension of Interstate 335.

Blagojevich said Monday, April 24, that the proposed leasing of the 274-mile Illinois Tollway system is a better idea for bringing in revenue than raising taxes.

While the governor isn’t ready to formally endorse the plan yet, Blagojevich said he’s been considering the idea of leasing the toll highway, and bringing in possibly billions in revenue, for years, WBBM Newsradio 780 reported.

The governor’s turnabout follows the recent action by an Illinois legislative panel to open up a process that could lead to the Tollway being put up for bid.

The General Assembly’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability voted April 4 to seek proposals from financial experts to determine how much a lease of the 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 or selling 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. He said those figures could translate into a $14.6 billion price tag for the Illinois Tollway.

“The Illinois Tollway is now more attractive than ever to investors,” Schoenberg, co-chairman of the commission, recently told 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 funding.

The legislative panel set a May 5 deadline for revenue projection bids, Reuters reported. But the governor says the idea needs more study, and won’t be decided until next year at the earliest.