Ohio Turnpike privatization raises concerns, support

6:56 PM, Jul 18, 2012   |    comments
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CLEVELAND -- The governor's plan to lease the Ohio Turnpike to a private company is raising both concerns and support.

At a public hearing on the idea Tuesday in Elyria, most of those in attendance were not in favor of privatizing the 241 mile road. But the idea is moving forward, with the state spending nearly $3 million researching the possibility.

According to the office of Governor John Kasich, the hearing was set up by Cuyahoga County Executive Ed FitzGerald, as "a dog-and-pony show to politicize the issue of privatizing the Turnpike."

Spokesman Steven Faulkner told WKYC the governor is serious about the potential economic benefits of leasing the turnpike.

"Kasich was just trying to get his hands on money like all the politicians do," says Fred Hockenberger, who's been driving the Ohio Turnpike since it opened. "And then the trouble starts when the people who lease it don't keep their word."

Hockenberger pointed to Indiana, which leased its 155-mile Toll Road to a private company 6 years ago. The state realized nearly $4 billion for the 99-year lease.

"I didn't notice that many differences," says Mike Stevens, an Indiana resident who travels his state's Toll Road often. "The only difference is there's a lot less people working now. It's all automated so if you have a problem, you're going to wait."

The company leasing the Indiana Toll Road has nearly doubled tolls for those who pay cash, and is struggling to meet its debts, incurred when it paid such a high price for the highway in 2006.

Future toll increases would be a factor in deciding whether or not to support privatization, say users of the Ohio Turnpike. 

"It would depend on how the privatizing would affect prices," stated Mary Babcock of Monroeville, Pennsylvania. "If they could keep prices relative."

Steve Lomske, who lives in Michigan and drives the Ohio Turnpike, says leasing the road for 25 or 30 years would be a smart move for Ohio. He wishes his cash-strapped state could eventually do the same thing.

"Everybody else is going privatization," Lomske told WKYC, "schools, bus drivers, so I probably think it would be a good idea.  Privatization seems to work better, more efficient."

Supporters of leasing the Ohio Turnpike says the money could be used to immediately fund desperately needed road projects.

Governor John Kasich has promised if such a deal went through, the bulk of the money would be used for projects in northern Ohio.


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