Indiana subsidizing four-wheelers as tolls increase

| 2/12/2007

As part of a plan to subsidize in-state users of the Indiana Toll Road, the state of Indiana is paying $60 million to the private company that leased the road last year.

The state set aside the $60 million fund from the $3.85 billion it received in June 2006 when a Cintra-Macquarie partnership known as ITR Concession Co. assumed operational control of the 157-mile toll road.

The original goal of the fund, an ITR spokesman told Land Line, was to provide a 40-percent discount to Indiana residents for 10 years during a planned schedule of toll increases from $4.65 per car to $8.

The trouble is the discounts are going to everybody, so the fund is being depleted by all non-commercial users, regardless whether they are from Indiana or another state.

"The ultimate goal of the discount is to give them a decreased toll for up to 10 years," said ITR spokesman Matt Pierce.

But Pierce said there is currently no procedure or technology in place to tell where commuters are from. That is about to change, he said.

Pierce said in order to stretch the $60 million pot for Indiana residents, ITR Concession Co. is working on a way to distinguish between in-state users - who will pay $4.80 to travel the entire 157-mile route - and out-of-state users - who will be charged $8. All four wheelers are currently paying $4.65, Pierce said.

The discount does not apply to any vehicle types above Class 2.

Pierce said the distinguishing factor will be electronic toll lanes, where toll road users can sign up for an account and use an electronic transponder to pass through the concession areas.

Indiana users passing through the toll areas would trigger the electronic tolling system and they would receive the discounted rate, while out-of-state travelers would not.

By October, Pierce said, the company hopes to have electronic tolling in place on the entire route. That is when out-of-state residents will begin paying the $8 toll.

Pierce said the company is hurrying to get electronic tolling in place so as not to deplete the $60 million fund too quickly. He could not confirm how much of the fund had been used between June 2006 and the present time.

"At this point, a greater number of individuals are drawing against that money," Pierce said. "Obviously the number of people receiving the discount goes down (in October) which allows us to prolong the life of the fund, which keeps the locals receiving their discount much, much longer."

The electronic toll system and the discounted rates are incentives to keep people using the toll road, Pierce said.

The parent company of ITR Concession Co. consists of Cintra of Spain and Macquarie of Australia. In 2005, the company leased the 8-mile Chicago Skyway for 99 years for $1.83 billion, which was the first existing toll road to be privatized. The Indiana Toll Road was second in line, and that lease is to last 75 years.

- David Tanner, staff writer