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Published: Tuesday, 8/9/2011

Ohio seeks consultant bids for advice on turnpike sale


COLUMBUS -- The Kasich administration formally began its efforts Monday to decide whether "leveraging" the Ohio Turnpike would be an effective way to generate new revenue for state coffers when it issued a request for consultants.

In a joint statement from the Ohio Department of Transportation and the Office of Management and Budget, the administration said an "adviser team" would work with those two agencies to "determine the true value of the Ohio Turnpike and the preferred option for leveraging the turnpike as a state asset."

If a "private investment option" is recommended, the consultants would then develop a selection process and assist the state in evaluating bidders' proposals and negotiating a final contract with a winner, the statement said.

An Aug. 24 deadline has set for receiving consultant "letters of interest," which must be submitted electronically.

"Interested consultants are expected to organize and bid as teams," the joint statement read. "The teams must include experience and expertise in technical [and] engineering disciplines, legal and contract expertise, and public outreach."

Since being elected governor last year, Governor Kasich has advocated leasing the 241-mile toll road across northern Ohio to private investors on grounds the private sector would be able to run it more efficiently than the Ohio Turnpike Commission and thus generate new revenue that could be devoted to other Ohio transportation projects.

During a news conference last month in Toledo, how- ever, the governor backtracked from an estimate that such a lease could yield $3 billion to the state and from a commitment that most such revenue would be spent in the northern part of the state. But he promised that a lease would be made only at the right price and only if it provided a continuing revenue stream to the state, not just an up-front payout as Indiana did five years ago by leasing the Indiana Toll Road to a Spanish-Australian investment consortium for 75 years in exchange for $3.85 billion.

The issuance of the letter seeking consultants is part of an evaluation process laid out in the biennial state-budget law enacted last month that also grants the Ohio General Assembly veto power over any request for proposals that might later be issued to seek turnpike investors.

The first advisory phase is expected to take four months to complete once a consultant team is chosen and a price negotiated for its services. Six more months is estimated as the time needed to prepare a selection process if the lease option is recommended.

Dave Rose, a spokesman at transportation department headquarters in Columbus, said that besides an outright turnpike lease, other "leveraging" options include transferring turnpike management from the Ohio Turnpike Commission to ODOT, or establishing a "public-private partnership" under which the state would retain full control but a private party would take over partial operation, such as maintenance or service-plaza management.

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