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Lake, LaPorte counties still in hunt for bankrupt Toll Road

Tolls paid by motorists at the Indiana Toll Road Portage exit, shown here, could help fund road projects in LaPorte and Lake counties under plans being formed by both counties to buy the Toll Road out of bankruptcy.

A joint bid by Lake and LaPorte counties to buy the bankrupt Indiana Toll Road has survived the first round and both counties are now preparing to finalize their offer.

"We are hoping we will be successful and prevail," Lake County Commissioner Roosevelt Allen told a Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission committee on Tuesday. "There is no point in that money going to a foreign consortium, when it could come back to the two counties and supplement our income for infrastructure."

Investment bank Piper Jaffray & Co., of Minneapolis, in November delivered a report to LaPorte County that demonstrated Toll Road cash flow could support a public entity bid and throw off enough cash to benefit surrounding counties.

That report showed the Toll Road could produce between $38 million to $53 million per year after operating and maintenance expenses to be used by the counties as they see fit.

Allen said the next step is to forge an interlocal agreement between the two counties to form a board of directors for the project. That would enable the two counties to proceed with their bid.

The two counties plan to fund their bid with non-recourse bonds that would be paid back solely out of Toll Road revenues. That would mean taxpayers in the two counties would not be on the hook for repayment if those revenues did not live up to expectations.

At a hearing in federal bankruptcy court last month, lawyers for the Toll Road's bankrupt operator told a judge they could have a final offer on the table for the 157-mile expressway in as little as two or three months. The lawyers said their are "many" interested parties bidding.

A progressive incentive bonus plan for Toll Road executives approved by the judge anticipates a sale price that could exceed $4.5 billion.

In other action on Tuesday, NIRPC's Transportation Policy Committee undertook amendments to its transportation plan to fund several major projects.

More than $11 million was reserved in the plan for projects on the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District's South Shore commuter railroad. For the realignment of 45th Avenue in Munster, $32.1 million was set aside. Some of the work on that project will start this year.

A long-awaited project to improve signals, intersections, and lighting along U.S. 30 in Valparaiso received a $20.5 millon set-aside in the plan.

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Senior Copy Editor

Jeanette is a journalist with The Times Media Co. who has worked as both a reporter and editor. She has a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield.