Speculation continues about Gov. John Kasich's proposal to sell or lease the Ohio Turnpike to investors.
Speculation continues about Gov. John Kasich's proposal to sell or lease the Ohio Turnpike to investors. - 
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The governor of Ohio, John Kasich, has said he wants to privatize the Ohio Turnpike, a 241-mile road that stretches across the Buckeye State. The governor claims the state stands to make more than a billion dollars on a deal. 

Joshua Schank, the president and CEO of a think tank called the Eno Center for Transportation, says it gets a lot of traffic.

“Companies have made location decisions on that basis,” Schank says. “Freight has made logistics decisions on the basis of the Ohio Turnpike existing.”

If the Turnpike does go private, drivers would still use it, which is why this kind of deal is so attractive to investors. But it doesn’t mean those drivers wouldn’t be upset.

“I think it’s safe to say that many residents in northern Ohio are skeptical, because they fear higher tolls and potentially more potholes,” says Trevor Brown, a professor of public policy at Ohio State.

It costs $16.50 to drive the whole length of the Ohio Turnpike, from Pennsylvania to Indiana. If the state does lease it, tolls would probably go up. But the Eno Center’s Joshua Schank says that’d be a decision the lessee would make:

“It’s a lot easier to go to the people of the state and say, ‘Look, I just got this huge amount of cash for this asset that we can now use for all the things that we want,’ than it is to go to them and say, ‘Hey, I need you to pay more for this road, so I’m going to increase the tolls’”

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels privatized the Indiana Toll Road. The former mayor of Chicago leased the Chicago Skyway to the same investors. In that case, there was pushback. The money didn’t go toward improving transportation.

Schank says it is important to remember something: “The deal that is made will determine for a long period of time the winners and losers.” Those leases, in Chicago and Indiana, are 99-year deals. 

A formal proposal from Gov. Kasich is expected next month.

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Follow David Gura at @davidgura