It’s been nearly six months since the Indiana Toll Road declared bankruptcy, and it recently appeared obvious who would take over its operations. But at the eleventh hour, some new developments popped up almost out of nowhere.
It looked like a partnership between investors and Lake and LaPorte Counties was the front-runner. If approved, that deal would bring in $5 million a year for each county, plus even more in excess toll revenue.
That bid was going through the approval process in recent weeks, and it seemed all but inevitable that it would win the lease. But at the end of last week, the Australian firm IFM Investments announced that it had put in the winning $5.725 billion bid for the Toll Road.
Proponents of the Lake-LaPorte plan insist that the decision is not made, that the IFM plan has yet to meet government approval. Even so, IFM’s statement sounds pretty final and confident, more so than those of the Lake-LaPorte backers.
I must say, the Lake-LaPorte plan seems like a better idea. For one, the last attempt to privatize the Toll Road ended up losing money for the owners, so it seems a little foolish to try again. But more so, a public (or at least semi-public) Toll Road could benefit the local communities, whereas a private one can only really benefit the owners.
I can’t help but be reminded of our neighbor Chicago’s infamous parking meter debacle, in which the city sold control of its meters to a private firm for 75 years for $1 billion. The idea was almost immediately revealed to be a bad one on the city’s end, as it could have raised more than that over the long run by running the meters themselves, money a state in such massive debt could have really used.
Fortunately, Indiana isn’t in nearly as dire financial straits as Illinois. Still, local ownership of the Toll Road is a better option than privatization, because whatever profits are made go to the counties. True, $5 million isn't a whole lot in terms of government expenses, but it's still an extra $5 million that can go to our schools, our roads, or toward something else in the community instead of just into the pockets of some company.