CHICAGO — Ohio has picked KPMG LLP as lead advisor for a proposal to privatize the Ohio Turnpike.
KPMG has assembled a team, which includes the Columbus-based public finance law firm Barnes & Thornburg LLP, to assist in the effort. Barnes & Thornburg will act as local counsel and help provide information to the General Assembly, which has veto power over a final request for proposals and bid.
The firm has until July to recommend to the state the best way to wring cash from the Ohio Turnpike, which is one of the largest toll roads in the United States. It also boasts one of the highest ratings.
Options include a long-term lease, which Gov. John Kasich has said he supports, placing it under Ohio Department of Transportation’s control, or leaving it alone.
“Selection of an advisory team is the first step in our process to develop and evaluate options to make the best economic use of the Ohio Turnpike as a state asset,” Office of Budget and Management director Tim Keen said in a statement. “Because this is a very complex issue, we’re turning to a team of experienced professionals to help us make the best decision and to proceed with the option that’s most appropriate for Ohio’s transportation and our economy as a whole.”
The state issued a request for letters of interest in August seeking advisors, and KPMG’s Infrastructure Advisory Group was tapped from a list of 14 respondents and five short-listed applicants, according to state officials.
KPMG’s Tim Wilschetz, a managing director with municipal finance and public-private partnership experience, will direct the project. Wilschetz joined the firm in 2008 from the transportation finance group at Morgan Stanley, where he had already worked with the Ohio Office of Budget and Management.
The lead legal transaction advisor will be Allen & Overy LLP, which was legal advisor to Puerto Rico for its toll road privatization.
In its proposal, KPMG said that it has worked on nearly every P3 project in the United States over the last 10 years.
The firm was ranked first during 2007-10 among financial advisors on North American projects, working on $13.6 billion in total transaction value and beating out Macquarie, RBC Capital Markets, and Goldman, Sachs & Co., according to Infrastructure Journal.
KPMG touted its ability to close deals even in turbulent markets since late 2008 and said it lacks other firms’ conflicts of interest because it does not underwrite or market securities, manage funds, or act as a lender. ODOT, which is leading the deal, and OBM expect to negotiate a final contract by the end of the year, officials said.
The 241-mile turnpike is the state’s only toll road. It is operated by the double-A rated Ohio Turnpike Commission, which also sells debt for the road. It last sold new-money bonds in 2001.
Kasich has said that a 75-year lease could generate up to $2.4 billion. The state would need to use $600 million to pay outstanding bonds, which need to be defeased in the event of privatization.
The Kasich administration also is eyeing a lease of the Ohio Lottery and expects to issue a request for proposals by the end of the year from firms interested in taking over the state’s 59 highway rest areas.