State won’t try to reclaim Indiana Toll Road from bankrupt operator

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A state official says no effort will be made at this time to reclaim the Indiana Toll Road from its private operator that filed for bankruptcy protection last month, despite calls from some Democratic lawmakers for such action.

Indiana Public Finance Director Kendra York said in an Oct. 21 letter that the state didn't want to take over responsibility for running and maintaining the 157-mile road, The Times of Munster reported.

York was responding to a request from Democratic U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly that the Indiana Finance Authority should try to take the highway from Chicago-based ITR Concession Co. The finance authority, which owns the toll road, is controlled by appointees of Republican Gov. Mike Pence.

York wrote that the state would now face spending far more than the $68 million it did over the last two years when it ran the toll road.

"In 2005, the year before the road was leased, the state of Indiana did not collect sufficient tolls to support basic road treatments, or repair the deteriorating conditions of the highway and bridges," she wrote. "These improvements could not have been undertaken within INDOT's budget without neglecting other parts of the state highway system."

Indiana officials, however, hadn't increased tolls for 20 years before then-Gov. Mitch Daniels pushed the 2006 deal under which ITR's parent company, the Spanish-Australian consortium Cintra-Macquarie, paid the state $3.8 billion upfront for a 75-year lease of the highway.

Under terms of that lease, ITR has more than doubled toll rates since 2008 for vehicles not using transponders. But ITR said in its bankruptcy filing that it can't afford its payments on what it borrowed to make the upfront lease payment.

Donnelly has said that the finance authority should take advantage of its leverage in federal bankruptcy court to address longtime problems with wait times at toll plazas, filthy travel plazas and the bridge to Interstate 94 in Portage that has been closed for more than a year. The LaPorte County commissioners have hired a bankruptcy attorney to investigate whether the lease allowed the state to retake daily operations of the highway, as Daniels said it would.

Donnelly said those traveling on the toll road deserve better.

"It is important that the IFA uses its authority to ensure that the toll road is managed and operated appropriately and that passengers traveling across our state have access to safe roads and quality services," he said.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Pamela Hollis in Chicago approved ITR's reorganization plan, a step that should expedite the sale of the Toll Road lease.

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