10/25/2005Delaware: Details of I-95 Sale Kept Top Secret
Public roads including I-95 in Delaware could be sold in a $3.7 billion deal without any public scrutiny or input.
In July, Delaware's legislature authorized spending $280 million to add two lanes to Interstate 95, improve the ramps on Del. 1 and add six E-ZPass lanes to the Newark toll plaza. Most legislators didn't realize at the time that neither they nor the public would be allowed to know such details as how the money would be spent, how much the $3 Newark toll would increase and whether the public's roads would end up being leased or sold outright to private companies.
Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) Secretary Nathan Hayward III and two Joint Bond Bill Committee members have final approval of the lucrative public-private partnership deal. One of the three companies vying for the rights to I-95 could end up paying the state as much as $2.5 billion for a 99-year lease, or they could even buy the road outright. Del. 1 could bring in another $1.2 billion. In return, the winning company would recover its investment from toll revenue and income from other use of the land that typically includes advertising and leasing transmitter space to cellular phone companies.
Other than naming the companies involved in the deal, DelDOT has the authority to sign a contract without subjecting any part of the deal to public scrutiny. Frances M. West, a member of the State Highway Commission under Republican Governors Pete DuPont and Mike Castle, has questioned the secretive process.
"The issue is, 'What does the contract say?'" she said to the Delaware News Journal. "When you operate in secret, you're always suspect. This is public financing."