Saturday, February 10, 2007

"Highway users and the vast majority of citizens recognize that privatizing public highways is a bad idea."

Toll Road plan gets mixed D.C. reviews

Daniels' project draws attack from highway users, praise from Pennsylvania governor

February 10, 2007

By Maureen Groppe
The Indianapolis Star Washington Bureau
Copyright 2007

WASHINGTON -- Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels either inspires other governors with innovative policies, or he rides roughshod over his constituents with a transportation plan bad for the public.

Both opinions of Daniels' performance were put forward Friday in Washington.

At a news conference, a coalition of groups representing truckers and other highway users raised a red flag about the trend of leasing or selling public roads and expressed concern the federal government is overzealously pushing that approach.

The group also released a poll it said shows most Hoosiers disapprove of the state's leasing of the Indiana Toll Road.

"Highway users and the vast majority of citizens recognize that privatizing public highways is a bad idea," said Todd Spencer, executive vice president of the Owner-Operators Independent Drivers Association. "Unfortunately, this administration is a lot like what Governor Mitch Daniels was . . . in kind of leading the parade for this."

Spencer said Daniels' attitude toward his constituents' objections was that they "weren't smart enough to recognize a good deal when they saw it."

A foreign consortium paid $3.8 billion to the state to operate the Indiana Toll Road for 75 years.

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell had a different view of that deal when he and Daniels spoke to reporters after participating in a transportation summit organized by the White House for state transportation leaders.

"We're all beneficiaries of Governor Daniels' courage and vision," Rendell said. Pennsylvania has sought to interest investors in leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Pennsylvania already has the eighth-highest gas tax in the nation and doesn't want to raise the tax by the amount needed to meet the state's infrastructure needs, he said.

The coalition of highway users -- which also includes AAA, the American Trucking Associations, the American Highway Users Alliance, the National Association of Truck Stop Operators and the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association -- said they wouldn't rule out all public-private projects. But the groups' representatives said they're worried that the leasing or selling of roads is being seen in Washington and the states as the main solution to funding the nation's growing transportation needs.

"Leasing our highways is essentially a dismantling of the nation's interstate highway network," said Bill Graves, president and chief executive officer of the American Trucking Associations.
A House transportation panel plans to hold a hearing next week on the topic.

"For the Bush administration, the rush to promote public-private partnerships is based in ideology, not a critical evaluation of how public-private partnerships might help meet the goal of an improved, integrated national transportation system and further the public interest," said Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., who heads the House Subcommittee on Highways and Transit.

DeFazio and Daniels clashed last year when Daniels testified before Congress about Major Moves. Daniels said Friday that DeFazio is a "left-wing extremist on this."

Contact Star Washington Bureau reporter Maureen Groppe at (202) 906-8118 or at

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