ST. JOSEPH COUNTY — Michael Peck has driven his semi along the Indiana Toll Road for 25 years. He said he has noticed several changes since 2006, when the state leased the road to a private consortium. But the Indiana Toll Road Concession (ITR) Company’s chief executive officer said conditions on the Toll Road have actually improved since the ITR took over.
“Roads are rougher, plazas are dirtier than they used to be,” Peck said.
“I would absolutely disagree with that,” said ITR Concession Co. CEO Fernando Redondo. “I think the road is in good condition. We are spending a lot of money.”
Peck also said he gets stuck in backups like one captured by WSBT cameras Wednesday afternoon at the I-69 exit in Steuben County.
Abby Schultz said she waited about five minutes to get through the toll booth gate.
“It’s frustrating because I need to get somewhere fast,” she said.
After the lease, ITR Concession Co. installed electronic toll booths, virtually eliminating the need for booth operators.
Redondo said the electronic booths are faster and work much better than the manual cash system. He said the electronic system can handle up to 700 vehicles an hour, whereas the old cash system could only take about 250.
At its regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday, the Toll Road Oversight Board said the average response time to drivers who push that button at the booth is 13 seconds – an improvement from what it used to be.
Another frustration for drivers who use the Indiana Toll Road – gas prices. The rest area near the 90 mile marker in Elkhart County sold gas for $3.79 a gallon Wednesday. But 35 miles east in LaGrange County, drivers filled up for $4.09 a gallon – 30 cents higher.
But there’s no easy fix for that. Several years ago Indiana's Department of Transportation entered into an agreement with gas dealers along the Toll Road saying they could average the gas prices of nearby gas stations, then raise their own prices by a certain percentage. Until that contract is up in 2015, the price gap will likely continue.
The ITR Concession Company has also been dealing with a debt issue. When the private consortium between two companies in Spain and Australia signed the Toll Road lease agreement five years ago, nobody anticipated huge fuel increases or the deep recession across the country, Redondo said.
That led to a dramatic decrease in traffic and the toll revenue the consortium expected to collect.