CHICAGO — The Ohio Turnpike Commission will refund $130.3 million of bonds Monday to achieve savings of nearly $10 million over the life of the debt.
The 241-mile-long Turnpike, Ohio’s only toll road, is considered a critical link in the national highway system.
The double-A rated commission is among the highest-rated toll roads in the country, and a relatively rare debt issuer. It last issued new-money bonds in 2001 and has no plans to borrow over the next several years.
Unlike with many toll roads, OTC officials said they expect to be able to finance its capital projects— a five-year, $425 million plan — with cash based on current toll revenue projections.
Monday’s transaction will refund a mix of serial and term bonds originally issued in 1998 and 2001. The commission expects to achieve a net present-value savings of 6.69% on the deal based on recent market rates. The structure of the original bonds will remain in place, with most of the debt maturing from 2020 through 2031.
“Given the economic conditions and the attractive interest rates that exist today we decided to refund now and take advantage of it,” George Distel, the OTC’s executive director, said Thursday.
Morgan Stanley is senior manager on the deal. JPMorgan, Blaylock Robert Van LLC, KeyBanc Capital Markets Inc., and PNC Capital Markets LLC are also on the underwriting team.
Columbus-based Fifth Third Securities Inc. is the commission’s long-time financial adviser. Bond counsel is Squire, Sanders & Dempsey LLP.
The commission selected the banks largely based on their Ohio presence as well as experience working with toll road transactions and other criteria, said the commission’s financial adviser, Eric Erickson.
Ahead of the sale, all three rating agencies affirmed their double-A ratings on the commission. Standard & Poor’s boosted its outlook to stable from negative after commission officials said they don’t plan to issue debt to finance their five-year capital plan.
Fitch Ratings maintains a negative outlook on the commission, warning that it could face unanticipated capital needs as well as problems tied to Ohio’s weak economy.
Distel said the commission’s current five-year capital plan is expected to cost about $75 million a year and will be financed with cash based on current toll revenue projections. The Turnpike last year raised its cash toll rates and implemented electronic tolling. Another toll increase is planned for January 2012.
“We have costed it out and looked at it out through 25 years,” Distel said. “With our current toll rate structure, we can meet all obligations for bond service, as well as service capital programs and operations without any additional borrowing.”
All of the commission’s $620 million of outstanding debt is in a fixed-rate mode. With no additional borrowing, the commission’s debt-service requirements will total roughly $55 million annually through 2024 and fall off until final maturity in 2031, according to Moody’s.
The OTC plans to keep in place a pair of insurance policies covering debt service reserve funds that it bought in 1998 and 2001, when it originally issued the bonds being refunded Monday.
Assured Guaranty Corp., formerly Financial Security Assurance, insures a reserve fund for $49.2 million, and Ambac Assurance Corp. insures a $6.3 million fund.
The master trust agreements require that the credit policies be provided by insurers with ratings in the two highest categories, which is no longer the case with Ambac. In response, the commission transferred $6.3 million in cash to the debt-service fund covered by Ambac and is prepared to do the same to cover the Assured policy if necessary, according to the commission’s general counsel, Noelle Tsevdos.
Meanwhile, a state bill privatizing the turnpike and the state lottery remains in a senate committee. OTC officials said they don’t expect it to advance.
If the proposal does move forward, Tsevdos noted that bondholders are protected by a trust indenture that requires all debt be defeased in the event of privatization.