3-penny drama plays out on Indiana Toll Road

I-Pass users will be hit with new charge for driving Indiana Toll Road
2009-12-05T00:05:00Z 3-penny drama plays out on Indiana Toll RoadBy Keith Benman - keith.benman@nwi.com, (219) 933-3326 nwitimes.com

I-Pass users soon will be dinged an extra 3 cents every time they venture onto the Indiana Toll Road, in the latest twist in the rocky relationship between the road's private operator and the public Illinois Tollway Authority.

The new charge came about because the Illinois Tollway Authority in July began charging Indiana Toll Road Concession Co. a transaction fee for I-Pass users, according to ITR spokesman Matt Pierce.

"They have made a business decision," Pierce said of the Illinois agency's action. The 3 cent fee will start Jan. 1.

I-Zoom users on the Illinois Tollway will not be hit with a similar fee because ITR Concession Co. is paying transaction costs out of an existing $1 per month transponder fee it charges customers.

Ever since I-Zoom electronic tolling was installed on the Indiana Toll Road two years ago, the Illinois Tollway Authority has been covering transaction costs, such as processing and customer service for I-Pass users on the Indiana highway, said Tollway Authority spokeswoman Joelle McGinnis.

"The Illinois Tollway Authority does not think it is appropriate for our public toll road to be subsidizing a for-profit private toll road company," McGinnis said Friday.

The payment of the transaction fee is not a wash between the two agencies because the predominant transponder used on the Indiana Toll Road is still the I-Pass transponder.

Since July, ITR Concession Co. has sent about $63,000 monthly in transaction fees to the Tollway Authority and the Tollway Authority sends about $31,000 to ITR Concession Co.

About 70 percent of all electronic transactions on the Indiana Toll Road are done with I-Pass transponders, according to Tollway Authority figures. ITR Concession Co. counters that on the Northwest Indiana section of the road that figure is about 60 percent.

The installation of electronic tolling two years ago on the Indiana Toll Road led to a border war over toll discounts.

Just before installation was complete in Northwest Indiana, ITR Concession Co. said it would not grant I-Pass users the same 40 percent discount that the Illinois Tollway was set to grant I-Zoom users on its tollways. That led the Tollway Authority to threaten to blackball the 90,000 Indiana residents using I-Pass transponders by shutting them out from any toll discounts.

Eventually peace was declared when the state of Indiana agreed to subsidize the discount for I-Pass users just as it does for I-Zoom users.

Both the Tollway Authority and ITR Concession Co. are members of the 14-state E-ZPass Interagency Group, which allow holders of electronic transponders to use them on the toll roads in those states.

ITR Concession Co. will not be tacking the 3-cent fee on tolls it collects from I-Pass users on the Chicago Skyway, which it also owns, Pierce said.

ITR Concession Co. is a subsidiary of Macquarie Infrastructure Group and Cintra Concessiones de Infraestructuras de Transporte, S.A. Macquarie and Cintra won the right to operate and collect tolls on the Toll Road for 75 years in exchange for paying $3.8 billion to Indiana.

Toll spat may cost you

Starting Jan. 1, I-Pass users will be charged an extra 3 cents each time they venture onto the Indiana Toll Road. ITR Concession Co., the private company that runs the Indiana highway, is creating the fee to cover a transaction fee the Illinois Tollway Authority began charging in July.

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