Illinois talking bigger privatization of toll way

| 6/1/2006

The Chicago Skyway lease was a big one at $1.83 billion.

Down the road, the state of Indiana topped that with a $3.85 billion lease of the Indiana Toll Road.

But Illinois appears poised to regain the title of having the biggest privatization deal for an existing toll road.

Illinois lawmakers, including Gov. Rod Blagojevich, have commissioned a study to determine how much revenue a long-term lease would bring in for the 274-mile Illinois Tollway in the northern part of the state.

Lawmakers estimate the deal could generate bids in the neighborhood of $15 billion.

The state has hired Credit Suisse Group to estimate the value of the system at the present time and in future decades.

The Illinois government leased the eight-mile Chicago Skyway to Cintra-Macquarie in 2005, the first private lease of an existing toll road in U.S. history. It will last 99 years.

Cintra-Macquarie, a Spanish-Australian investment and infrastructure consortium, is also scheduled to hold the 75-year lease for the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road after June 30, when the company sits down with Gov. Mitch Daniels to ink the deal.

The Indiana Toll Road lease, part of Gov. Daniels’ “Major Moves” 10-year transportation plan, is being challenged in court by a group of Indiana residents and truckers who don’t want to see toll revenue handed over to private business.

These big leases give states what they need up front – cash, in return for the right for the private investor to collect tolls and make a profit.

Illinois will handle the possible Tollway lease process differently than Indiana did, according to the Chicago Tribune.

The Tribune reported that Gov. Blagojevich and lawmakers will make the public more aware of the lease process and its benefits up front, as opposed to having all the work done behind closed doors by the firms and presented to the legislature.

The state intends to call public hearings at various stages, the Tribune reported.

– By David Tanner, staff writer