News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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June 19, 2014

Indiana Toll Road operator facing debt woes

MUNSTER — A state agency says it is monitoring the Indiana Toll Road operator’s finances as it works to make an upcoming debt payment on the financing of its $3.8 billion lease payment to the state eight years ago.

The Indiana Toll Road Oversight Board has asked the Spanish-Australian investor group Cintra-Macquarie about the status of the payment it owes this month after state officials made similar inquiries after news reports that it was struggling last year to make an interest payment, board Director James McGoff told The Times of Munster.

“The answer is the same, they are trying to negotiate more favorable terms with their lenders,” McGoff said.

Cintra-Macquarie made the upfront payment of $3.8 billion to the state in 2006 for a 75-year lease of the highway that crosses Indiana’s northern counties, but its toll revenue since then hasn’t met expectations.

Paula Chirhart, a senior vice president for Macquarie Group Limited, declined comment on the consortium’s current financial situation.

The group’s Indiana Toll Road subsidiary turns an operating profit from tolls, but it has struggled under a debt load now calculated at $4.4 billion in the most recent annual report from Macquarie Atlas Roads. Some $3.9 billion of debt matures in 12 months and will have to be refinanced by June 2015, according to that report.

The ITR Concession Co. announced this month that the cost of driving on the highway is going up an average of 2.7 percent on July 1 for those without E-ZPass transponders.

Driving a car the full length of the toll road will be $10, up from the current $9.70. The toll for a typical five-axle semitrailer going the 157-mile length of the highway will be $39.70, up from its current $38.70. The annual increases are stipulated in the 2006 lease agreement.

The state has spent much of the lease money on highway projects, although $500 million was placed in an investment fund that collects interest to pay for future road construction.

Then-Gov. Mitch Daniels, who spearheaded the lease plan, said in 2011 that Cintra-Macquarie troubles showed that the state had hit the jackpot as the consortium “overpaid” for the lease.

McGoff said the lease agreement allows the state to potentially take the highway back over if the consortium misses its debt payments.

“If they default, the road comes back to us,” he said.

The Indiana Toll Road Oversight Board continues to monitor that the operator to make sure its meeting lease requirements that the highway is kept good repair.

“We are in constant communication to make sure the road is up to the same standards as INDOT maintains for all its roadways in the state,” McGoff said.

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