Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The gift that keeps on taking

The state of Indiana received $3.85 billion in 2006 by leasing its 157-mile toll road to private investors from Spain and Australia for 75 years.

And even though that money funded a 10-year transportation plan and helped many areas of the state catch up on transportation needs, the money and the interest it earned is going to dry up sooner rather than later. According to the latest reports, the up-front money the state received will be spent or committed to projects by June 2013.

That means the next few generations will see no cash for their needs despite being stuck paying ever-increasing tolls to guarantee investor profits.

This shows that the Indiana Toll Road lease is the gift that keeps on taking.

Sure the 10-year highway and bridge project known as “Major Moves” is helping replace bridges, pave roads and relieve congestion, but it’s a one-time fix. There’s no way those projects will hold up through 2081.

And what of the Indiana Toll Road itself? According to truckers we’ve talked to, it has its share of needs and rough pavement. The investor is supposed to be maintaining and upgrading the highway, but their timetable may differ from a state DOT’s because they have shareholders to pay.

Highway users had every right to cry foul back in 2006 when Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels signed the lease.

In an instant, users were on the hook for toll increases. The lease guaranteed truck tolls would more than double from $14 to $32 during the first five years. And for the duration, the lease guarantees toll increases will keep up with inflation to make sure the investors don’t lose a dime.

Despite the state of Indiana being able to live high on the hog from the lease proceeds for a few years, the windfall is about to dry up. Once the money is spent and is no longer drawing interest, Indiana will be right back with every other state looking for ways to fill gaps in the budget.

It’s a good thing they only had one toll road to pawn.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A rare glimpse inside tragedy

In the May issue of Land Line Magazine, you’ll find a story I may be more proud of than anything I’ve ever worked on here at OOIDA.

For years, Land Line has envisioned a story about how truckers face their worst nightmare – a fatal wreck – even when the wreck isn’t their fault.

Death is always difficult to deal with, but the shock and ugliness of a fatal traffic wreck is sadly unique.

Few are more acutely aware of this than truck drivers. Highway interchanges, entrance ramps and plenty of questionable decisions from motorists allow for so many encounters. It’s a wonder we don’t see more death and awful injuries after highway wrecks between drivers and passengers of all vehicles.

Recently we were able to interview three OOIDA members who have faced that nightmare – who have fought the demons that come with such a tragedy and who are standing on the other side.

These drivers – Ray Shankle, Joel Robinson and Wayne Dalrymple – remained engaged with trucking and their families after each incident. They didn’t hide, didn’t self destruct. In fact, if anything these three drivers say they opened up to life and to others in ways they hadn’t before – even if wounds from the wrecks never totally heal.

It’s impossible to talk to three people with that kind of life experience and not be changed yourself.

On another note, it seems all too frequent when mainstream news media identify a pickup driver suspected of DWI as a “trucker,” or otherwise accuse truck drivers before facts are sorted out.

Lately, however, we’ve seen more journalists of all stripes willing to take a look at a horrific wreck from the trucker’s point of view – something that’s not always easy for a newspaper editor who works with political leaders and local residents who all too often scapegoat trucks and truck drivers.

It’s nice to be able to point out the good work so many journalists do. Almost makes you wonder if these writers and editors gained new perspective after talking to people who had lived through these roadside tragedies.

I know I did.