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Private sector taking control of roads in new trend in U.S.

Sun-Sentinel - 4/4/2007 12:00:00 AM

Turning over construction and control of roads and bridges to private companies is common in other countries, but has only begun in the United States.

Florida is among more than 20 states that have passed bills authorizing some form of highway privatization. The state is pursuing public-private partnerships to finance a host of projects, from a new tunnel at the Port of Miami to express lanes on Interstate 595 and new toll roads in Tampa and Jacksonville.

In 2005, Chicago sold a 99-year lease of the Chicago Skyway to a Spanish-Australian consortium Cintra-Macquarie for $1.83 billion.

The city, which is using the money to pay off debt and fund other transportation projects, became the first in the nation to complete such a deal. The consortium raised tolls from $2 to $2.50. By 2017, tolls on the 7.8-mile highway will be $5.

In 2006, Indiana leased the 157-mile Indiana Toll Road for 75 years for $3.8 billion to Cintra-Macquarie. Indiana is using the money to pay for urgent road and bridge needs elsewhere in the state.

Perhaps the largest of such deals is in Texas, where officials have entered into agreement with a Spanish-American consortium called Cintra-Zachry to build a $7.2 billion, 600-mile toll road that would parallel Interstate 35 from the Oklahoma border to Mexico