INDIANAPOLIS — The state agency that oversees the Indiana Toll Road has given the highway's debt-saddled private operator until late November to prove that it's meeting its debt obligations amid reports that the company is considering filing for bankruptcy and selling off its multi-billion-dollar toll road lease.
The Indiana Finance Authority sent a letter Aug. 26 to ITR Concession Co. giving the company 90 days to show that it can meet its obligations to its lenders in compliance with the company's lease responsibilities, said Jim McGoff, the authority's toll road oversight director.
ITR Concession's debt stems from a 2006 deal under which its parent company, the Spanish-Australian consortium Cintra-Macquarie, paid Indiana $3.8 billion upfront for a 75-year lease of the 157-mile toll road that runs across northern Indiana between the Illinois and Ohio state lines.
But ITR Concession's toll revenue has failed to meet expectations, and the company missed a June debt interest payment.
McGoff said Wednesday that the Finance Authority's recent letter "specifically reminded the operator it's required to pay its own debts and liabilities."
He said that if the company doesn't satisfy the state's concerns within 90 days, the Finance Authority would be able to notify the company that it is in default and give it 60 days to submit a plan for resolving the issues.
The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Granger, Indiana-based ITR Concession was weighing a possible bankruptcy filing as company officials work to reduce their roughly $6 billion debt load through a debt restructuring that could set the stage for it to sell its toll-road lease.
The newspaper also reported that ITR Concession's missed June debt interest payment spurred it to push ahead with debt restructuring talks with hedge funds that bought its bank debt for the tollway lease.
Paula Chirhart, a senior vice president for Macquarie Group Limited, declined to comment this week on the consortium's current financial situation.
McGoff said the Finance Authority is aware that the company and its lenders "are in the process of finalizing negotiations for a debt settlement." But he said ITR Concession continues to manage the state-owned toll road in compliance with its lease agreement.
Any new operator would require Finance Authority approval, McGoff said.
Senate Appropriations Chairman Luke Kenley said he's confident that protections lawmakers put in place in the 2006 legislation allowing the lease will safeguard the state, no matter who ends up running the toll road.
"I think for the state of Indiana and for the consumers, we're fully protected," said Kenley, R-Noblesville.
State Rep. Patrick Bauer, who was House minority leader in 2006 when the legislation passed, remains one of the lease's chief opponents.
"I could say 'I told you so,' but I will say that it was a bad deal for the state," said Bauer, D-South Bend.
He said he expects that if the lease is sold, the new operator will look for a way to increase revenue, and that most likely would mean higher tolls.