Talk of leasing Ohio Turnpike familiar territory in Indiana - 21 News Now, More Local News for Youngstown, Ohio -

Talk of leasing Ohio Turnpike familiar territory in Indiana

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio - Ohio Governor John Kasich's talk of possibly leasing the Ohio Turnpike to a private company is raising both concern and support.

Opponents say leasing the roadway could mean higher tolls and poorer maintenance. Supporters point to the huge chunk of cash the state could get from a lease.

This is all familiar territory to the people of Indiana. That state signed a 75 year lease six years ago.

To find out how the deal has worked, 21 News recently traveled to our neighbor to the west.

It's been six years since Indiana received a $3.8 billion payday for the lease of their toll road to private companies, Cintra of Spain and Macquarie of Australia. Since then, supporters claim they've seen improvements both on and off the toll road.

John Leatherman, a state appointed member of the Toll Road Oversight Committee, points to the upgrades his county has seen after receiving their chunk of the lease.

"As long as I've been a local official this has been a problem," said Leatherman pointing to a re-newly constructed bridge. "Now it's been fixed and fixed right."

The state used the influx of cash to create a 10 year transportation plan and divided the money among its counties.

According to the Indiana Department of Transportation, the money has been set aside for more than 700 bridge projects and six-thousand miles of resurfacing. Projects former State Representative Randy Borror said would have been nearly impossible without the lease.

"In today's pressure of lack of revenue for roads and what not, all ideas have to be on the table for any state," Borror said. "You cannot ignore private-public partnerships."

According to Borror, the toll road was in operation for about 50 years, yet remained $200 million in the red.

By signing the lease, the operating company agreed to install electronic toll collection, a $40 million project the state had only talked about in the past.

In addition, the lease binds the operating company to pavement and bridge quality standards, an agreement overseen by a state appointed committee.

A leading opponent of the lease, State Representative Patrick Bauer, feels the agreement protects private investors more so than the public. He argues it's not wise to bind the hands of future generations.

"This is a classic example why," Bauer said. "Because this five year fix, or whatever you want to call it, is going to affect us for the next 70 years."

Frustrated that the majority of the $3.8 billion will be spent as part of the state's 10 year plan, Bauer feels once the money is gone there will be future increases in gas taxes to maintain the roads.

Bauer also points out that the lease exempts the operator from paying property taxes on places it owns along the highway, instead labeling them as "public property."

Other areas of debate stem from the increase in toll rates, they have more than doubled since 2006. When viewed in "cents-per-mile" the rate remains less than both Pennsylvania and Ohio.

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