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How a new Indiana Toll Road operator could impact you

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The company that operates the Indiana Toll Road and its lenders are finalizing negotiations for a debt settlement, said Indiana's Toll Road Oversight Director James McGoff with the Indiana Finance Authority.

But the state would not comment on reports that the Indiana Toll Road Concession Company may soon file for bankruptcy or that the Toll Road could get a new operator.

However, another member of the Oversight Board told WSBT drivers should not feel the impact of the apparent financial problems for the ITRCC.

It's all reaction to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal that said the ITRCC is weighing a possible bankruptcy filing in the coming weeks.

The Indiana Finance Authority must approve any future operators of the Toll Road, McGoff said, which is part of the lease agreement signed in 2006. It's designed to make sure the 157-mile toll road stays open and in good condition for everyone who uses it.

"For the most part, it's not too bad," said Illinois driver Duane Barnes, who drives the Indiana Toll Road.

"Winter time can be very tricky," added semi truck driver Devin Coleman.

There's mixed reaction about current condition of the Toll Road.

"Compared to Illinois it's a lot better. Their toll roads are a little rough out there," laughed Bill Closs, who said he drives the Indiana Toll Road a couple times a month.

The Toll Road Oversight Board says the language in the state's lease with the ITRCC should protect drivers in the event of a new operator.

"Maybe the [current] operator's got financial things it needs to do," said board member John Leatherman of Elkhart County. "That doesn't affect me or you as long as the road is open, the pavement's good, the ridges are in good repair, the snow's removed, those kind of things."

A change in operators would not automatically mean higher tolls, said former oversight board member Leigh Morris. According to the lease, tolls can only be raised on July 1 of each year and must do so under a specific formula.

However, an operator could raise them significantly after 2017 because the schedules that set the tolls are "relaxed somewhat" after that, Morris said. Drivers who count on discounts for using electronic tolling may also see the end of lower rates after 2017 because of language in the lease, he added.

Leatherman said the controversial toll road lease has been a good thing for Indiana. St. Joseph and Elkhart Counties each got $40 million and Elkhart used it to help finance projects like the Johnson Street and Six Span Bridge construction projects.

The money also helped pay for the new U.S. 31 and some 200 other projects in the state, Leatherman said.

He also cited improvements to the toll road itself.

"We have to remember we got 3 lanes on each side for about 20 miles over by Gary, we got an improved Indiana State Police presence with this, we got electronic tolling, we got a lot of things the state of Indiana was not able to provide for us before the lease."

But it's now up to the state and oversight board to make sure the promises in that lease are upheld.

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