Turnpike bid race narrows

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A financial consortium once thought to be the leading candidate to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike has apparently dropped out of the running.

Spain-based Cintra and Australia-based Macquarie Infrastructure Group, which bought rights to the Chicago Skyway in 2005 and the Indiana Toll Road in 2006 for a total of $5.6 billion, have decided not to increase their bid for the state toll road being offered by Gov. Ed Rendell as a means of generating more funds for roads, bridges and transit.

Yesterday, Cintra-Macquarie informed its prospective investors to feel free to work with the remaining two investment consortiums: Spain-based Aberti, teamed with Babcock & Brown and Citi Infrastructure Investors; and New York-based Goldman Sachs, teamed with Transurban Group, an international toll road manager, and the Ontario Teachers Pension Plan.

As a result, out of 14 firms that originally submitted "expressions of interest" in acquiring rights to the highway, only two are left.

Cintra-Macquarie's withdrawal was reported by three sources: a Spanish Internet news site, www.expansion.es; writer Ofer Karline, who follows Macquarie; and Tollroadsnews, an independent industry news site based in Frederick, Md.

Because three firms had submitted bids within 10 percent of each other, Mr. Rendell set today as the new deadline for "best-and-final offers" for the 75-year lease of the turnpike's east-west mainline and 110-mile Northeast Extension.

Cintra-Macquarie indicated they weren't prepared to increase their bid, which would have been binding. "The numbers didn't cut it," one of the bankers told Tollroadsnews editor-publisher Peter Samuel.

While tomorrow is the deadline for final bids, the Rendell administration said the results won't be released until next week. If the high bidder meets Mr. Rendell's goal, he will seek speedy legislative approval to privatize the turnpike and amend the controversial Act 44 transportation funding bill to halt efforts to convert I-80 to a toll road.

Joe Grata can be reached at jgrata@post-gazette.com


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