SPECIAL REPORT: Toll road plaintiffs appeal deadline is June 5

| 6/2/2006

Plaintiffs in the constitutional challenge of Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels' "Major Moves" transportation plan and the privatization of the Indiana Toll Road were working furiously on Friday to meet a Monday, June 5, deadline to file an appeal.

St. Joseph County Superior Court Judge Michael Scopelitis ruled May 26 that the lawsuit is to be considered "public" under state code, and declared the plaintiffs would be required to post a bond of $1.9 billion for the case to proceed.

Scopelitis gave the plaintiffs 10 days to post the bond or the lawsuit would be dismissed.

The group of Indiana residents who filed the challenge, including OOIDA member Randy Nace, Dave Menzer of the Citizens Action Coalition and activist Steve Bonney of West Lafayette, IN, told Land Line they expect to appeal the ruling.

"We feel strongly that we have a good opportunity for appeal here, and that we still have a very strong case," Menzer told "Land Line Now" earlier this week. "We are prepared to go forward with that appeal and hope to have it filed by Monday."

The judge exempted parts of the challenge from the "public" portion of the lawsuit, and ruled that the Indiana Toll Road's net present value is $1.9 billion. The value of the lease, which is part of "Major Moves" signed into law by Gov. Daniels in March, is $3.85 billion.

Bonney said the plaintiffs are not giving up.

"I hope no one else thinks that we've lost this," he said. "Again, no matter what the ruling was, we knew it would have to go to the Supreme Court."

The plaintiffs' attorneys at the Cohen & Malad law firm had scheduled a conference call Wednesday, May 31, to discuss the appeal process.

"The Supreme Court is going to rule accordingly, whether it was win, lose or draw by the plaintiffs or defendants," Bonney said of the May 26 ruling.

Daniels' "Major Moves" transportation plan includes the $3.85 billion lease of the Indiana Toll Road to the Spanish-Australian consortium of Cintra-Macquarie for 75 years.

Daniels and the Indiana Finance Authority - another defendant in the lawsuit - have already earmarked the revenue from the lease deal to go toward 200 road projects to bridge a growing gap in the state's roads budget.

Cintra-Macquarie, which is scheduled to formally ink the deal with Daniels on June 30, has a clause in the lease deal stating the private investor can walk away from the lease if there is pending litigation.

Whereas the state could not turn a profit on the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road, Cintra-Macquarie projects up to a 12.5 percent return for their investors.

Cintra-Macquarie is the same foreign consortium that leased the Chicago Skyway in 2005 for $1.83 billion, the first ever privatization of an existing toll road belonging to the U.S. interstate system.

The lawsuit that Bonney and Nace initiated is being fought with funding chiefly raised by Indiana residents and the trucking industry, including OOIDA.

To learn more about the challenge to the "Major Moves" plan that allows the Indiana Toll Road lease, visitmajormoves.org online.

- By David Tanner, staff writer