Foreign investors lining up for a crack at leasing the PA Turnpike

| 12/12/2006

If the Pennsylvania Turnpike becomes a private toll road, some international heavy hitters will have already lined up to bid on it.

International media are reporting that Macquarie Infrastructure Group of Australia is interested in a potential long-term lease, but it isn't the only global infrastructure investor getting in line.

Cintra Concessiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte SA of Spain, which has previously partnered with Macquarie on long-term leases for the Indiana Toll Road and the Chicago Skyway, is among the companies interested in bidding for a similar lease in Pennsylvania, according to European news sources.

And Spanish toll company Abertis has arrived stateside in an effort to cash in on the U.S. toll-road market. Abertis is reportedly interested in a long-term lease in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell recently announced a proposal to solicit bids from toll operators for the 537-mile turnpike, best known for being the oldest superhighway in the U.S.

A total of three Spanish companies were mentioned in a Madrid news story as having interest in a privatized Pennsylvania Turnpike, namely Abertis Infraestructuras SA, Cintra Concessiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte SA, and Fomento de Construccion y Contratas.

These companies are willing to shell out big cash up front for the right to pocket the toll revenue from long-term leases.

Cintra and Macquarie Infrastructure Group, for example, are 50-50 partners in the $3.85-billion lease of the Indiana Toll Road and the $1.83-billion Chicago Skyway lease.

Truckers and the general public haven't let the notion of privatized U.S. highways sit well.

Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association - with 147,000 members in the U.S. and Canada - said states taking short-term cash in exchange for long-term leases will pay a price in the long run.

"Selling the turnpike is akin to pawn-shop mentality, hock your assets for cash now, but pay big time down the road," Spencer said. "You can sure bet the investors lining up to buy the turnpike aren't a benevolent bunch. They won't be doing this out of the goodness of their hearts for the people of Pennsylvania."