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State senator would consider leasing tollway
By Joseph Ryan | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 11/20/2009 12:03 AM

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State Sen. Bill Brady, a Bloomington Republican, says he would consider selling the Illinois tollway to a private company if elected to the state's top post, putting him at odds with at least one challenger in the GOP primary for governor.

"I would look into it if it could be managed better for the taxpayers and the riders - and it is possible," said Brady after a taping of WBBM 780-AM's At Issue program.

At the same time, Brady criticized moves by Chicago Mayor Richard Daley to sell off taxpayer assets for massive windfalls upfront, including a leasing of the Chicago Skyway, I-90.

"You have to look at each transaction as a business transaction," said Brady, who is in his second run for governor. "You can't just do it for the short-term bump."

Daley landed $1.8 billion for the 7.8-mile Skyway and some estimates have showed the 274-mile tollway system in the suburbs could fetch several times that amount.

But such transactions have been criticized because they often lead to private companies jacking up toll rates. Opponents say government could simply realize the windfall in the long term if politicians had the stomach to raise tolls as much as nonelected private companies.

The idea to sell or lease out the tollway to a private company gained some traction in 2006, when state Sen. Jeff Schoenberg of Evanston floated the idea, authorizing a study and holding hearings across the state. But the proposal never went anywhere.

Several suburban Republicans stood against the plan, saying it would leave suburban drivers at the mercy of a private company that would answer to no one. State Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican, was one of those most opposed. He is now running against Brady in the seven-way primary field.

Another opponent was then-Illinois Treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, who came out against the idea after securing the Republican primary in her run for governor. She beat Brady in the primary. Topinka is now running for state comptroller.

Brady said he believes a good model for selling the tollway would be what Indiana Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels did in leasing that state's 157-mile I-90 tollway for $3.8 billion.

The 75-year lease allowed the company to almost immediately double tolls for cash payers while raising rates subsequently at least 2 percent a year. Drivers using an electronic payment system, like Illinois' I-PASS, have been granted a break on the hikes until 2016.

Brady said he would not propose selling the suburban tollway system to raise money to bridge the state's massive budget shortfall. It is not part of his proposals to balance the budget.

"I think we have to be very careful. Assets have to be preserved for the long term," Brady said during the taping.

At Issue is scheduled to air at 9:30 a.m. Sunday on WBBM 780-AM.