New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway headed toward privatization?

| Monday, November 06, 2006

If a New Jersey state lawmaker gets his way, private groups would have an opportunity to run the New Jersey Turnpike and Garden State Parkway.

Sen. Ray Lesniak, D-Elizabeth, said he soon will craft legislation similar to a bill he offered earlier this year that would give private groups an opportunity to own a piece of the roadways.

The previous version offered by Lesniak authorized the New Jersey Turnpike Authority to sell or lease a 49-percent interest in the two roadways to raise $6 billion to help pay down the state's pension liabilities. His revised plan would send money from the transaction to the state's Transportation Trust Fund, which funds capital improvement projects, northjersey.com reported.

Lesniak said the budgetary deficits faced in the state require new and creative ways to cope.

The earlier version of the bill allowed the state to set up a for-profit corporation to run the highways. A non-controlling interest would be sold or leased to investors while the state would keep 51 percent ownership.

Investors would get a fixed rate of return estimated at as much as 8 percent. New Jersey would continue to run the roadways and collect tolls.

State officials say privatizing the roadways is something that warrants further exploration.

State Treasurer Bradley Abelow told northjersey.com that privatizing the state's two busiest roads could be marketable transactions that would reap much-needed revenue for the state.

Abelow noted that the 75-year lease of the Indiana Toll Road this year netted the Hoosier State $3.85 billion and the 99-year lease of the Chicago Skyway a couple of years ago brought in $1.83 billion.

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