Toll road lease may decide Indiana elections

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The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association says truckers should boycott the Indiana Toll Road to send a nationwide message against toll-road privatization. In July, the state entered a 75-year, $3.85 billion lease of the 157-mile road to a foreign consortium. This year, the first under the new lease, the toll for a big rig to travel the 157 miles across Indiana increased from $14.55 to $18, with more increases scheduled after that.

OOIDA and state Democrats say the lease will be a deciding factor in today’s Nov. 7 Indiana elections; the lease was backed by the Republican governor and passed by the Legislature’s GOP majority, while nearly all Democrats voted against it.

Truckers should cast their own vote by taking alternative east-west routes through Indiana, says Todd Spencer, OOIDA executive vice president. “That’s a way to send the message that as more and more roads are converted to toll roads, the secondary highways get more and more of the traffic,” Spencer says. “If that’s the life they want to live, they ought to be willing to embrace it right now.”

Tolls would have had to increase anyway with time, no matter who ran the road, says Matt Pierce, spokesman for the Indiana Toll Road Concession Co., which now manages the toll road. Moreover, a private company is more responsive to customer needs than government, Pierce says. “We’ll never price ourselves out of the business,” he says.

The new managers also plan to install electronic tolling, which will be better for all motorists, especially truckers, Pierce says. Large trucks account for 40 percent of all Indiana Toll Road traffic, a figure unchanged since the consortium took over, he says. Taking interstates 80 or 94 through western Indiana will make the trip longer and slower, and there is no good alternative route in the east, Pierce says.