Gov. Mitch Daniels stepped into the controversy over electronic tolling on the Indiana Toll Road
on Thursday, urging an oversight board to approve offering a 40 percent discount to I-PASS users.
The Indiana Toll Road Oversight Board sped to that action in a unanimous vote Thursday during an 18-minute meeting at Toll Road headquarters in Granger, Ind.
"It's always good to have something like this resolved," Indiana Department of Transpo
rtation Commissioner Karl Browning said. "The governor looked at what's the right thing to do for the people of Indiana."
Private Toll Road operator ITR Concession Co. begins offering I-Zoom transponders to motorists today, and on June 25 electronic tolling will start in Northwest Indiana. The discount will go into effect when tolls are raised in November.
At the end of May, Illinois had threatened to retaliate for Indiana's move to deny I-PASS users the 40 percent discount that motorists using I-Zoom will get. The Illinois Tollway Authority said if that happened, it could take I-PASS transponders from 90,000 Hoosiers and force them into cash-only lanes.
Those motorists and others with E-ZPass
es like I-PASS already get a 50 percent discount on the Illinois Tollway.
Indiana estimates it will cost $250 million to provide the toll discount for I-Zoom, I-Pass and all E-ZPass users, which includes transponders issued in 11 states.
The money will come out of the $3.8 billion the state received for the Toll Road lease, Indiana Public Finance Director Cris Johnston said.
A letter from Daniels read by Browning before the vote Thursday essentially guarantees ITR Concession that the state will pay the full cost of the discount for up to 10 years, no matter what that may be. When originally written into the Toll Road lease agreement, Indiana contemplated only Indiana motorists getting the discount.
ITR Concession, a subsidiary of a Spanish-Australian consortium, has been the Toll Road's operator for almost a year. The controversy over I-Zoom is the largest the company has faced.
ITR Concession CEO Fernando Redondo praised the governor's action in comments after the meeting.
"With this resolution passed, there should be no sticking points," Redondo said.
That proved true. By late afternoon top Illinois Tollway officials gave a green light to the deal.
In addition to the reciprocal discount, Tollway Executive Director Brian McPartlin praised the rescinding of a requirement that out-of-state E-ZPass users sign up at a special I-Zoom Web site to get their discount in Indiana.