Monday, August 20, 2012

Will Privatized Toll Roads and Bridges Be Daniels' Lasting Legacy?

There is no doubt that the well-connected law firms and investment bankers who make a lot of money putting together privatized toll road projects see the benefit of this approach, but the public's benefit is not as clear. The Northwest Indiana Times' Dan Cardin takes a look at the approach to the Cline Avenue bridge in East Chicago. Gov. Mitch Daniels refused to make funding available to rebuild the Cline Avenue bridge, which left northwest Indiana officials with the choice of losing a major transportation artery or putting together a privatized toll road. East Chicago chose the latter, but Hammond Mayor Tom McDermott tells Cardin that he doesn't think the community should have been forced to make the choice given that INDOT builds and replaces bridges elsewhere in the state. That's not entirely the case. Two new bridges being built over the Ohio River at Louisville will become toll roads that Indiana commuters will disproportionately pay compared to the neighboring Kentucky residents. Gov. Daniels is very proud of forcing the privatization deal on the Northwest Indiana.
"It's just a different way of paying for it," Daniels said. "Frankly, the idea that the users pay for a very specific facility or service I think is a very fair one, instead of charging people who will never use the bridge for it."
The Republican governor said he won't be satisfied with the Cline Avenue situation "until we have a bridge that's working to the benefit of the community." But, he said, "I'm very hopeful and I'm encouraged that what looked like a problem without a solution, it appears has found one."
Once the paperwork is finalized, Daniels said he expects fast action on a new bridge. The estimated cost of the bridge is $150 million.
"This company has every incentive to build a good bridge and build it quickly, so they can start trying to get their money back," Daniels said.
Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, who is running to succeed Daniels in the governor's office, shares Daniels' positive opinion on using public-private partnerships to build new infrastructure.
"Innovative financing is the best, most cost-effective way to do large projects now and into the future," Pence spokeswoman Christy Denault said. "Given dwindling state and federal revenues and eroding gas taxes, Mike Pence plans to move Indiana forward by working with partners in the private sector."
Denault said Pence believes roads ought "to the best extent possible be paid for by those who use them." She said he lauds East Chicago "for finding a way to work with the state and a private developer to come up with a forward-thinking way to build a multimillion-dollar piece of infrastructure for their community."
Given that Pence appears to be poised to adopt Daniels' approach, this should be an issue on which John Gregg  can capitalize.  "If I were governor, that bridge wouldn't have been closed this long, and the reality of it is, were that a bridge from Indianapolis into one of the (nearby) counties, it would have been fixed right away," Gregg said. "It shows the bias this current administration has toward Northwest Indiana." Actually, I think Gregg is wrong that this approach will not eventually happen in the Indianapolis area. That is precisely how proponents of mass transit will likely rely to finance their ambitious plans.

1 comment:

The Urbanophile said...

If tolls weren't being used on Cline Ave, where would the money come from? The only way to get it would be to either a) raid the Major Moves trust fund or b) take the money from other town's projects. If people want to say that the state shouldn't have required tolling, then they should say what other projects in the state they are cancelling in order to pay for Cline Ave.

The bridge was built for traffic loads far higher than today. When so many Hoosier roads are actually over capacity (including others in Lake County), it makes no sense to invest a huge sum of money to rebuild a gigantic bridge where traffic doesn't warrant it.