Feds reinstate funds for Ohio to study possible turnpike lease

| 10/31/2011

The Federal Highway Administration has reinstated a grant that Ohio can use to study funding options, which include leasing the Ohio Turnpike to private investors. The turnabout comes after state officials agreed to amend their application for use of the funds.

The FHWA originally approved a $1.5 million grant to Ohio in September. However, following a letter of concern from Democratic members of Congress that the funds were being misused, the feds took a second look and decided to revoke the funds.

But that was not the end of it.

Congressional Republicans sent a letter of their own asking for the FHWA to reinstate the funds, and state officials have amended their application to be more specific – or in this case, less specific. Ohio officials are now saying the grant money will be used not to pursue a lease but rather to study a variety of options that may include such a lease.

Earlier this year, Gov. John Kasich put forth a budget that called for options including leasing the turnpike to investors. Since then, requests for proposal have been sent to various companies to assist in developing a plan. The state hopes to have some proposals in hand during the next month or so.

Highway users, including truckers, question the viability of long-term leases or the outright sale of existing infrastructure. OOIDA opposes these types of “pawn shop” deals, which can last decades and include substantial toll increases levied on the user.

A case in point is the Indiana Toll Road, which Gov. Mitch Daniels leased to private investors from Spain and Australia back in 2006. The terms of the lease allowed tolls to increase from $14 at the time of the lease to $32, with future toll increases indexed to the rate of inflation. That lease is scheduled to last through the year 2081.

See related stories:
Ohio Turnpike privatization called into question
Feds revoke funds for Ohio Turnpike privatization study
Governor could auction off Ohio Turnpike
Companies show interest in developing Ohio Turnpike lease