By on October 11, 2011

A  plan to spend $1.5 million in federal gas tax funding to help a private company purchase the Ohio Turnpike was torpedoed by a group of Democratic members of Congress from the Buckeye State. US Department of Transportation officials held a conference call Friday to let US Representatives Marcia Fudge, Marcy Kaptur, Dennis Kucinich, Tim Ryan Betty Sutton, and Senator Sherrod Brown know that the project had been shelved.

On October 4, the delegation had written Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to complain that Ohio’s State Planning and Research Program (SP&R) was using federal funds to hire a contractor to advise the state on selling the turnpike for $3 billion. The idea follows Indiana and Chicago, Illinois which leased their roads to foreign companies for 70 and 99 years in return for short-term cash that was used to cover budget deficits. The Ohio Turnpike was not built with and is not maintained by federal money.

Governor John Kasich (R) has taken on the turnpike as an example of massive government waste. One-third of the $187 million in annual revenue taken from drivers goes to pay for toll collection equipment, personnel and overhead. Last year, one unionized employee was paid $80,720 for the unskilled task of collecting change, and the average salary for toll booth workers was $52,000. Kasich believes the job would be better handled by a machine.

The congressmen are upset that members of Teamsters Union Local 436 would lose their well-paid positions. Nationally, the Teamsters have provided $27.6 million in campaign donations to Democrats since 1990.

“While the SP&R Program’s guidelines are laid out in a way that should get the full value from these investment dollars, we have serious concerns that using federal funds to progress plans to sell off a state asset is far from the intended spirit of the program,” the members wrote in their letter to LaHood. “Using these funds to advance a privatization plan that could potentially severely cost drivers via increased tolls, threaten the job security of over 1,000 Ohioans, and drive up costs for local governments through increased maintenance costs of local roads, is a questionable use of federal taxpayer dollars and exposes a loophole in the program guidelines.”

Tolls on the Indiana Turnpike doubled since it was sold to a Spanish-Australian consortium in 2006. Chicago Skyway tolls increased five-fold and will jump ten-fold within the next five years.

“The Ohio Turnpike is a high quality road in good financial health, has bipartisan support to remain in its current form, and serves as a vital business asset to ship goods all across this country,” said Ryan, who organized the opposition. “Any efforts to sell the Ohio Turnpike are misguided, and I plan to continue to fight to protect the Turnpike in the future.”

Over the course of a 99-year lease, the Ohio Turnpike would generate $54 billion in revenue with an annual three-percent toll increase. When the turnpike was first built, it was supposed to be converted into a freeway once its debt was retired.

[Courtesy: Thenewspaper.com]

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29 Comments on “US DOT Backs Off Public Funding for Toll Road Privatization...”


  • avatar
    Hildy Johnson

    Taking the family jewels to the pawnshop is rarely a sign of sound financial planning.

    • 0 avatar
      forraymond

      I’ve been saying for over a year now, the paid for politicians are going to take many existing roads and make them private roads for the wealthy (high tolls) and what is left will be for the surfs.

      The private roads will be very well maintained (think golf course landscaping to hide the remaining public roads in the distance) and the public roads will get less maintenance than they already get.

      It is already happening all around America.

      Keep voting for BIG BUSINESS and wind up with nothing.

  • avatar
    thebanana

    And people wonder why OWS is gathering steam?

    • 0 avatar
      forraymond

      Occupy Wall Street is a real grass-roots movement, not one funded by Dick Armey (Tea-Party).

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        The Tea Party movement is a real grassroots movement, too. Others jumped on when it turned out to have “legs,” which is exactly what will happen if the Occupy Wall Street movement turns out to have “legs”, too.

      • 0 avatar
        Hildy Johnson

        These two movements have similar, or at least overlapping motivation. One seems to focus more on big business as such, whereas the other focuses more on the politics that is in the pockets of big business – but these two issues are just two sides of the same coin.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    So has the construction debt been retired or not? Why does it have to remain a toll road? Get rid of organized crime and take down the gates.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    Meanwhile over in PA we has Governor Ed Rendell trying to turn I80 into a toll road and funnel money to the public buses in Philly. Among other things. He really wanted toll roads all over the state, just like New Jersey.

    • 0 avatar
      vento97

      >Meanwhile over in PA we has Governor Ed Rendell trying to turn I80 into a toll road and funnel money to the public buses in Philly. Among other things. He really wanted toll roads all over the state, just like New Jersey.

      Three things:

      1) The I-80 toll road project was SHOT DOWN quite some time ago.

      2) New Jersey has only three toll roads out of the 39,000 miles of road in the entire state – the 173 mile Garden State Parkway, the 131-mile New Jersey Turnpike, and the 44-mile Atlantic City Expressway. So I call BS on your statement about toll-roads being all over the state.

      3) Ed Rendell has long since been out of office. Tom Corbett is the Governor of Pennsylvania now.

      You REALLY need to leave the house more often.

  • avatar
    asapuntz

    probably remains a toll road because it needs to be:

    -policed
    -cleaned
    -plowed
    -salted/sanded
    -repaired
    -repainted
    -resurfaced (every ~10 years)
    -replaced

    I assume the construction bonds had a maturity of 20-30 years, and the road had a design life of 40 years. Rebuilding everything, from soup to nuts, while maintaining some semblance of traffic flow, makes the initial costs pale.

    • 0 avatar
      Sundowner

      Finally, someone who get it.

      Anyone here own a car? I’m guessing quite a few. Is the only cost of ownership for a car the purchase price? Of course not. There’s maintenance, repair, upkeep, cleaning, paying to power the street lights (you’d be amazed to know how much this costs), and finally replacing worn out buts like asphalt and bridge steel.

      Drivers of the roads like the Garden State Parkway should be grateful. The road was built by charging $0.25 per toll booth in the early 1950′s. The toll has doubled in the last 60 years (some toll booths were demolished leading to doubled tolls at the remaining toll booths, you still pay the same per mile). Let me say that again THE COST OF THE TOLL HAS DOUBLED IN 60 YEARS. Has the cost of ANYTHING else in this world ONLY doubled in the past 60 years?

  • avatar
    stuki

    It seems whether public or private, taxpayers get f’d, while politicians and their favored special interests fill their coffers.

    It’s time to just kick them all out. Pay no taxes and no tolls, close our ears to the fear mongering, and damn the consequences. Roads are overrated. Buy a Raptor.

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      And fill it with what stuki?? Roads aren’t the only things gummint regulates. The fuel you put in your Raptor, the safety features of the vehicle, the tires on the truck, I could go on. Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Fifty-two to $80,000 annual salary as a cashier? In this state if it goes to anti-government ballot it’ll pass. Ohio Govenmor Kasich was voted in to replace former Govenor Strickand for a reason.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    Seems like there’s a lot of contradictions here. First, why is federal money needed to accomplish a private buy-out of the highway? Second, while the salaries paid the toll-collectors, etc. do seem out of line, why is it that tolls on the privatized Illinois and Indiana roads have risen so much? If it was simply to pay for/finance a juicy purchase price, then the taxpayers don’t really have much room to complain. They (or, to be precise, their state government) got the money in a lump sum, which the purchaser is collecting from them in dribs and drabs. If Ohio is cooking up the same kind of deal (and assuming that’s the reason for the significant toll increases in Illinois and Indiana), then the whole thing is kinda of a con.
    Fourth, the whole concept of toll roads kind of eludes me. Motorists pay state and federal fuel tax on every bit of fuel they buy . . . which is supposed to be used for highway construction and maintenance. So nobody (except the occasional Prius or Volt driver) drives on the roads for free. I guess I’m willing to accept the concept that certain roads in certain states are so heavily used by out-of-state drivers who do not purchase fuel within the state, that I’m willing to accept the idea of a toll. For example, the Delaware turnpike (I-95) that goes through Delaware on its way to either Philadelphia or New York City (by way of New Jersey) is so short, it’s unlikely that too many of the users stop to buy fuel in Delaware. But, I’m not sure that argument holds for the New Jersey Turnpike, which runs the length of the state; and I’m not at all convinced it works for the Garden State Parkway, which, I suspect, is primarily used by NJ residents.

    I remember when I-95 through Connecticut was a toll road. It seemed like there were toll booths every 10 miles. The result was huge traffic jams at the toll booths . . . all to collect 75 cents from each driver. But, I don’t know how much of that road’s use is by non-residents.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      Well, also, some roads cost more than others to maintain; the I-95 tunnel under Baltimore is certainly more expensive to upkeep than a similar length of, say, I-695, so the former has a toll and the latter does not. Then there’s other local considerations, for example, in New Jersey, state fuel taxes are exceptionally low in order to keep fuel retail prices in line with neighbouring states (it costs more to run a gas station in NJ because they’re all required to be full-service, and stopping that is a local political third-rail).

      Moreover, with gas prices on the rise, voters are generally opposed to any increase in fuel tax even if it’s necessary to keep up with inflation, but it still needs to be paid for somehow. For expansion of new roads, people elsewhere in the state will whine that they, personally, don’t use that road so why should the money come from their fuel tax, so new highways invariably become toll roads (the ICC in Maryland is the first example that comes to mind here).

      • 0 avatar
        jerseydevil

        “in New Jersey, state fuel taxes are exceptionally low in order to keep fuel retail prices in line with neighbouring states

        I would disagree. I live in philadelphia, gas here is usually 20 to 30 cents a gallon more than just over the bridge in jersey.

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        Exactly my point: gas in NJ is cheaper, and cost of running a filling station in NJ is higher (because you need to hire obnoxious high school students to pump gas for the customers) so fuel taxes are really low and tolls pay for a lot.

    • 0 avatar
      Sundowner

      NJ turnpike is a primary artery for which heavy shipping is transported from the eastern ports to the rest of the northeastern US. The truck weights are SUBSTANTIAL.

      Gas tax is a joke. It hasn’t been raised since the Clinton years while the average fuel economy of a car has risen dramatically. Between inflation and CAFE mandated consumption drops, funding for roads is beyond the critcal point: there is no money for even basic maintenance. Bridges we could have saved with paint and patching 5 years ago got no funding. They were left to rot are now total losses that need full replacement.

      • 0 avatar
        geeber

        We’re also diverting an increasing amount of federal motor fuel tax revenues for non-road projects. As someone who works in the legislative realm, I can assure you that no fuel tax increase will be passed (and I believe that we do need one) without addressing this issue.

  • avatar
    vento97

    I find it amazing that so-called “big business” complains about government regulation, yet they are the first with their hands out for the government subsidies.

    If you’re gonna dine at the devil’s house – you’ve gotta play by the devil’s rules…

  • avatar
    ixim

    Some Interstates, like I-87 in NY were built as toll roads by separate entities [\"Authorities\"]. They sold bonds to build the roads instead of tapping taxpayer funds – hence, tolls forever. The recent huge rise of bridge tolls [from $8 to $12 RT] in NY to fund mass transit is at least better than selling future tolls to foreigners for a one-time sugar high of cash. And, don’t get me started about the Chicago parking meters…..

  • avatar
    Russycle

    “The congressmen are upset that members of Teamsters Union Local 436 would lose their well-paid positions.” Really? According to who? Apparently I missed the part where this story turned into an editorial.

    “Nationally, the Teamsters have provided $27.6 million in campaign donations to Democrats since 1990.” Since 1990. 20 years. So that’s less than $1.5 million per year. Nationally. Nice cherry picking. So how much did these particular congresspersons get from the Teamsters? Sorry, I forgot we were editorializing, not reporting.

    Can we take a gander at the political contributions of the firms that bought the Chicago and Indiana toll roads?

    • 0 avatar
      Pch101

      Sorry, I forgot we were editorializing, not reporting.

      Well spotted. The “News”paper is a series of op-ed pieces, with a propensity for cherry picking.

      I become weary of editorializing that isn’t supported by facts. It’s fine to have an opinion, but an opinion based upon nothing is worth its contents.

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        It’s also bizarre that “The Newspaper” is suddenly in favor of roads being sold off to private companies, given the amount of complaining they do about outfits like Redflex, et. al. What side are they on, anyway?

  • avatar
    racer-esq.

    The only thing that gives private roads a chance in hell is that the government is sandbagged by having to deal with public sector unions. If the government didn’t have to deal with public sector unions it could be much more effective.


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