Report: Toll Road suit now hinges on $1.9B bond

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An effort to halt Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ plan to lease the Indiana Toll Road hit a snag Friday, May 26 when the judge in the case ruled that the plaintiffs must put up a $1.9 billion bond for the case to proceed, according to The Indianapolis Star.

The plaintiffs — the Citizens Action Coalition of Indiana and seven individuals, including an owner-operator — have 10 days to post the bond, or the case could be dismissed. Daniels’ office released this statement shortly after the ruling: “It’s right and appropriate these folks had their day in court. I accept their sincerity, but think they were dead wrong when it comes to the long-term interest of the future of our state.”

Already approved by the state legislature and signed by Davis, the $10.6 billion Major Moves plan would lease the Toll Road to a private Spanish-Australian consortium for 75 years for $3.8 billion. Proceeds from upfront payment, added to future monies, will pay for road projects across the state, the governor says.

Dave Menzer, a Citizens Action Coalition spokesman, says his group is considering an appeal to the Indiana Supreme Court. Money, though, is a major hurdle: Menzer says any appeal could cost $50,000. The group already has spent much of the $80,000 it had in store from supporters. “It’s crunch time,” Menzer says.

The group filed suit in March, charging that Davis’ plan violates state law. Among several arguments, Menzer says any proceeds from the sale of public utilities must be used to pay public debt. The judge ruled Friday that the plan only leases, not sells, the Toll Road, the Star reports. The state is expected to formally close the lease deal June 30, and state lawyers contend any delay could cost Indiana millions of dollars. They wanted the Citizens Action Coalition to put up a bond for the full amount, $3.8 billion, for the case to move forward.

Menzer says support from the trucking community has been strong; the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association opposed Davis’ plan from the start. The Indiana Motor Truck Association, however, endorsed Major Moves early on, citing transportation improvement needs. Davis’ plan has received national attention, with the governor recently testifing before a U.S. House subcommittee on transportation. Several states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, are considering similar initiatives to lease or sell public roads to private-sector handlers.

Menzer says such plans could lead to corruption of the nation’s road system. He says the dergulation of the electrical industry and later debacles such as the Enron financial scandal serve as a warning. “I think if they were to poll the general public, not just truck drivers, they would find that the vast majority of people are opposed to the leasing or selling of the nation’s highway system,” Menzer says.