Ohio Turnpike privatization called into question

| 10/5/2011

Five members of Congress from Ohio are questioning the state’s use of federal funds to explore a privatization plan for the Ohio Turnpike.

U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan, Marcy Kaptur, Dennis Kucinich, Marcia Fudge and Betty Sutton, all Democrats from the Buckeye State, stated their concerns in a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Monday, Oct. 4.

The lawmakers questioned whether federal taxpayer dollars should be used to pay advisers on a turnpike proposal that could end up costing drivers more in tolls and threatening local economies.

“It is our hope that the appropriate agency within your department can clarify the use of this money, and if the actions are against DOT guidelines, take the proper action to recoup these taxpayer funds,” the lawmakers wrote.

“While we may not all agree on the state’s actions towards privatization of the Ohio Turnpike, federal taxpayer funds should not be serving to facilitate a particular policy initiative to privatize a public asset.”

In a statement that accompanied the letter, Ryan went on to question the proposed long-term lease or sale of the turnpike as put forward by Gov. John Kasich.

“Previous efforts to privatize publicly owned turnpikes have resulted in dramatically higher tolls for the public,” Ryan said. “In 2006, the Indiana Turnpike was sold to a foreign held company for a 75 year lease. Since then, tolls for some motorists on the Indiana Turnpike have increased by over 150 percent.”

OOIDA and other highway user groups oppose the private takeover of public roadway assets.

Gov. Kasich included a possible turnpike lease or sale in his latest state budget as a way to generate up-front revenue. He has stated that a responsible lease could bring in as much as $3 billion and that he would walk away from any deal that did not meet strict standards.

The state has issued a request for proposals from a short list of possible companies that would pay to take control of the turnpike. State officials have scheduled meetings in November with potential bidders according to Rep. Ryan’s office.