Proposal would pay $2.85M for Ohio Turnpike study

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The consultant studying whether the state should lease the Ohio Turnpike would be paid $2.85 million under a proposed contract, well above the $1.5 million the state initially estimated last year in a request to the federal government.

Austin, Texas-based consulting firm KPMG corporate Finance will analyze options for the 241-mile northern Ohio toll road that helps links the Midwest with the East Coast. The state Controlling Board on Monday is slated to consider the contract, which would run through December.

The board does not often reject such requests, The Columbus Dispatch reported Tuesday.

An Ohio Department of Transportation spokesman defended the cost, telling the newspaper that more detailed work can be more expensive.

"As you define the scope and realize the amount of work and level of detail that goes into an objective third-party study like this, the cost has the potential of going up in order to get it right," spokesman Steve Faulkner said. "We want KPMG to do as thorough and as diligent a job as possible."

KPMG has until the end of the year to study and make recommendations on how the state can get the best financial benefit from the turnpike. It would consider options such as leasing the turnpike to a private operator, maintaining public ownership and operation, or using a mix of public ownership with part private operation.

Republican Gov. John Kasich has said leasing the turnpike to a private operator could bring in billions of dollars, but critics fear it could lead to poor road maintenance and higher tolls, spurring travelers to use parallel routes instead of the toll road.

"I'm deeply disappointed that the state of Ohio is wasting federal money on this radical plan to privatize the Ohio Turnpike, drive up tolls and threaten the job security of over 1,000 employees," said U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles. "Federal funds should be used to create jobs, not eliminate them."

Democratic local officials from across northern Ohio who are opposed to leasing the turnpike announced last week that they're skeptical of the state analysis and plan to conduct their own study of whether it's a good idea.

In 2006, Indiana leased its shorter toll road for $3.8?billion for 75 years, but it's not clear whether Ohio could make a similar amount in this economic environment.

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