Ohio to spend $2.85 million to study turnpike lease

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 2/14/2012

Last year, state transportation officials in Ohio sought to spend $1.5 million on a study to determine whether or not to lease the Ohio Turnpike to private investors. After lawmakers challenged the legality of federal funds being used for that purpose, the study was eventually granted. The kicker is the price tag has now shot up to $2.85 million.

The Ohio Department of Transportation will use the money, most of it federal, to hire a consultant to study ways to maximize the 241-mile turnpike and see what a long-term lease could bring in. Officials will choose the consultant next week.

OOIDA opposes the long-term lease or sale of public infrastructure to private investors. OOIDA says the leases last too long, lead to higher tolls, and put investor profits above basic maintenance. Not only that, but the investor is not as accountable to the public as a government agency would be.

Long-term leases are not common, but notable ones include the Indiana Toll Road and Chicago Skyway.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels leased the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road to private investors from Spain and Australia in 2006. While the state got an immediately gratifying $3.85 billion payout, tolls were allowed to more than double to $32 for heavy trucks during the first five years. With future tolls indexed to inflation, Indiana Toll Road users are on the hook through the year 2081.

The Chicago Skyway lease to the same Spanish-Australian consortium is set to last through the year 2104.

The Ohio Turnpike, run by the Ohio Turnpike Commission, could collect $250 million this year in tolls thanks to a toll increase that took effect in January.

Last year, Ohio Gov. John Kasich proposed a budget that included a possible lease to investors. It’s not a done deal and is sure to face opposition.

In October 2011, a group of Democratic U.S. representatives from Ohio attempted to block the use of federal funds from being used to study a possible lease. The U.S. DOT temporarily revoked the funds, but Republican U.S. representatives succeeded in getting the funds reinstated the $1.5 million for the study.

Since then, the price tag has gone up to $2.85 million.

Truckers have had an on-again, off-again relationship with the Ohio Turnpike based on toll rates and speed limits. Currently, the turnpike has a higher posted speed limit than other major roadways in the state, but state lawmakers are working to raise the limits on other roadways to make them equal.

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