If you spend as much time scouring the web for political stuff as I do, you know that roads have become a point of contention in the debate about government spending (“roads” being shorthand for public necessities that some say should be privatized). If recent events in Indiana are any indication, at least the issue of literal roads can go down as a loss for the privatization crowd.

The Indiana Toll Road was sold in 2006, and it operations were transferred from the state to the private Indiana Toll Road Concession Company. The company is a subsidiary of two foreign companies: the Spanish firm Cintra and the Australian McQuarrie Atlas Roads.

A quick perusal of the company website shows that Cintra is a major company that owns toll roads and parking (presumably the much more profitable of the two) throughout the world. In other words, they know the business well. McQuarrie, on the other hand, is just part of a larger investment bank. The site for their transportation company features some information about their private highway holdings, but seems much more designed to woo investors into buying a stake in their operation.

Though this might not be a good investment, if the Indiana Toll Road is any indication: today, the Indiana Toll Road Concession Company filed for bankruptcy.

I can’t say I’m surprised. The toll road costs a few bucks to use each time. Even if you use an I-Pass or E-ZPass and get a discount, that adds up if you use it a lot. Whether you regularly or only occasionally commute to Chicago, of course you’re going to take the cheaper (i.e., free) routes. As for cross-country driving, a quick search on any map program can find a similar route across Northern Indiana on toll-free roads that’s only a few more miles and a negligible amount of time longer.

There are times when a private road nearby isn’t a bad thing. Quite often when there’s a long traffic delay or construction, it might be worth the few bucks for a faster trip. And during one of the crippling blizzards we had last winter, when the public roads were covered in snow and all but shut down, the Toll Road was relatively cleared and made for a smooth ride into the city. But when trying to turn a profit, you can’t just rely on being the alternate choice. Traffic jams clear, construction doesn’t last forever, and it doesn’t snow all the time.

Something to think about before the Illiana toll road construction starts up.

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