Indiana: A lesson to Ohio on possible turnpike lease - 21 News Now, More Local News for Youngstown, Ohio -

Indiana: A lesson to Ohio on possible turnpike lease

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YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio - Six years after the state of Indiana turned its toll road over to a private company, there are still mixed opinions on whether it was a good idea.

Ohio is now thinking about doing the same thing.

21 News is taking a closer look at the idea and if Ohio could learn from its neighboring state.

Talk of possibly leasing the Ohio turnpike to a private company is raising concern among local legislators. "All we're doing is taking one time money in a lease in order that we can make our current administration and current politicians look good," said State Representative Ron Gerberry. "It's wrong."

In conversations with members of the local legislative delegation, all expressed doubts regarding the lease.

The group fears the turnpike will remain under the control of a private company for years after the state has spent the cash from the lease deal, and that would tie up a valuable state resource for decades.

In Indiana, opponents point to the fact that the state could spend the $3.8 billion from their deal within 10 years. But supporters argue the state has also set aside $500 million in a trust fund that's expected to generate $50 million in interest each year.

Local elected officials also worry about whether the cash for the road and bridge projects will be distributed fairly among Ohio's 88 counties and if northern Ohioans who regularly use the toll road will get a fair amount.

"Now we have the people of Cincinnati, and the people of Columbus and the people of Dayton," Gerberry said. "They're going to reap the benefit of our investment in northern Ohio."

Indiana created a formula to distribute the money for improvement projects that relies heavily on how much drivers use the toll road in a particular county.

Other concerns among the local Ohio representatives are a spike in tolls and drop in maintenance.

"It has been safe, it's been well maintained and it's been protected," said State Representative Robert Hagan. "I don't think we need to do anything. Why do anything to something that works well?"

A spokesperson for Governor Kasich said, "There are two choices. We can explore options for the turnpike to help our state and economy move forward, or we can bury our heads in the sand and do nothing while our roads and bridges deteriorate."

Currently the toll road is being studied by a consulting firm hired by the Kasich administration. Once the study is released, Jerry Wray, Director of the Ohio Department of Transportation, says it will give the state a better idea of how they can profit off the road, whether it's privatizing, issuing bonds against it, or looking at some other avenue.

According to Wray, Ohio would want a shorter lease than Indiana, perhaps 45 to 50 years.

According to an Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study funded by the Federal Highway Administration, it would take at least 50 years to reach the $2.4 to $3 billion windfall they say is targeted by the Kasich Administration.

"Whatever we do, we will be sensitive to what happens to the tolls, what happens to the condition of the road, and we will be very prescriptive and specific," Wray said.

If the state were to decide to lease the turnpike, the decision would go before the Ohio General Assembly. At this time officials for both the speaker of the house and senate president say it's too soon to tell if a bill would pass.

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