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Published: Friday, 9/15/2006

Nonprofit group with GOP links formed to back lease of turnpike


COLUMBUS - A group of businesspeople with Republican ties has formed a nonprofit organization to push for the lease of the Ohio Turnpike for up to $6 billion, a plan identical to one promoted by GOP gubernatorial candidate Ken Blackwell.

Road to Work Ohio pitches itself as unaffiliated with any campaign or candidate.

Under the plan, private investors would pay to operate the turnpike and the state would use the proceeds on economic development programs. A private company would collect the tolls and use them to operate and maintain the roadway and pay the employees.

Spokesman Mary Anne Sharkey said the nonpolitical committee is selling the turnpike idea as a good postelection idea for Ohio, regardless of whether Mr. Blackwell or Democrat Ted Strickland wins in November.

At the helm as executive director of the group is James Seney, the recently retired head of the Ohio Rail Development Commission.

Mr. Seney, a former mayor of Sylvania, was brought to the group by Tom Whatman, the head of a Columbus lobbying firm and former executive director of the Ohio Republican Party, the (Cleveland) Plain Dealer reported yesterday.

Despite the group's Republican ties, it is trying to convince Mr. Strickland, a U.S. congressman, that the turnpike plan would provide money for his economic development plan if he is elected governor.

"I listen to what Ted says and he's going to need capital to carry it out and here it is - it's in the turnpike," Mr. Seney said.

Mr. Seney said Mr. Blackwell is already in favor of the idea.

Strickland spokesman Keith Dailey said Mr. Strickland opposes the idea because it would "likely put a state asset into a foreign company's hands and will most definitely raise tolls."

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