For immediate release:
Oct. 1, 2014
INDIANAPOLIS - Last week, after traveling along the Indiana Toll Road, State Rep. David Niezgodski (D-South Bend) wrote a letter to Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) officials complaining about the sorry conditions of several Indiana Toll Road plazas. On Tuesday, Rep. Niezgodski received a response that indicated the state agency agreed with his complaints and offered details about INDOT’s plans to correct the situation. Contained below is a statement from Rep. Niezgodski about the INDOT response, as well as the initial letter the lawmaker sent to INDOT officials (the response from INDOT and supporting documents are linked at the bottom of this page):
“While I am gratified to know that my feelings about the appalling conditions of the Indiana Toll Road Service Plazas are shared by the leading officials at the Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT), I remain concerned of the way this mess may be indicative of the way that the ITR Concession Company, LLC (ITRCC) has managed the entire Toll Road.
“If it is apparent to everyone that the ITRCC hasn’t been upholding its contractual responsibilities about maintenance and upkeep of the service plazas, why should the public have any confidence that the ITRCC has performed any of its obligations covering oversight of the Toll Road? These concerns are particularly acute as bankruptcy proceedings continue, and we remain in a state of doubt as to the future operation of the entire facility.
“I am pleased that steps are being taken to correct these obvious flaws in operation. These are needed.
“But I continue to believe that constant vigilance is needed to make sure that all parties, including the state, live up to their obligations. As we have seen, it isn’t going to cut it to tell the people of Indiana that they have nothing to worry about with the operation of the Indiana Toll Road during bankruptcy proceedings. Those sentiments have proven to carry an aroma not unlike what people can find visiting any Plaza.”
Here is the initial letter sent by Rep. Niezgodski:
September 25, 2014
Chris Kiefer, Chief of Staff
Indiana Department of Transportation
100 N. Senate Ave.
Indianapolis, IN 46204
I have noted that a good chunk of the coverage of the bankruptcy proceedings involving the foreign owners of the Indiana Toll Road have talked about the need to keep the Road in the kind of condition that the public has a right to expect.
In that light, I thought I might spend a few minutes talking about a trip I took along the Toll Road over the past couple of days.
Because of a personal matter, I had to drive from my home in South Bend to Cleveland, Ohio. Naturally, I used our Indiana Toll Road, as well as the Ohio Turnpike.
During my travels, I had the occasion to stop at Service Plazas in Indiana and Ohio. I did so partly to see for myself about the conditions of these facilities. Like you, I have received a number of e-mails, letters, and other correspondences from people about them in the years since the change in control.
My first impressions at the Indiana plazas led me to think there wasn’t any great cause for concern. While the appearance of these facilities prompted me to think that added modernization would be a good idea, they seemed to be well-maintained.
Then I went to the restrooms. The kind thing to say is that the aroma was something that a person might expect from these types of facilities. The accurate thing to say is they stunk…literally.
Those sentiments really took hold when I visited the Service Plazas in Ohio. They were modern, clean and spotless. In short, they were the types of facilities you would hope would offer a friendly welcome to visitors to your state.
The differences became even clearer the next day when I stopped at the Angola Service Plaza upon my return to Indiana.
I’ll be blunt. I was embarrassed and repulsed by what I found.
I know we do not have the same types of resources that states like Ohio do, but would it kill the folks in charge to do some general upkeep of these facilities? A little trimming of trees and bushes, some sweeping up, and maybe a touch-up of paint here and there.
The repulsion came when I got within 10 feet of the entrance to one of the restrooms in Angola. The smell was so bad I found myself seriously considering whether to continue further, look for the next plaza, or hold it until I made it home another 100 miles or so down the road.
There is absolutely nothing professional about the way visitors from other states are greeted when using the restroom facilities at this Service Plaza or quite frankly at any of the other Indiana Plazas that I visited during my trip.
While I would not hold Governor Pence personally responsible for this situation, I do wonder about the wisdom of repeatedly making the statement that Hoosiers need not worry over the bankruptcy proceedings because it will be business as usual. Considering the condition of some of these plazas, I wonder whether such statements would be interpreted more as providing a warning rather than offering comfort.
As I understand it, the Service Plazas are run by separate vendors and it is the responsibility of the concessionaire to manage those vendor contracts.
Since the current owners of the Indiana Toll Road have declared bankruptcy, wouldn’t it be wise to review the performances of some of these vendors and hold them accountable for not living up to their responsibilities? At the very least, is it possible that we could draft some state workers from INDOT to go on bathroom duty for a few days?
I suppose it could be surmised that I’m not really pleased with what discoveries my road trip led me to over the last two days. Your presumption would be correct.
These aren’t issues that should be casually disregarded, because they impact how travelers view our state. Personally, I would like for visitors to the Crossroads of America to have better memories of Indiana than the pungent smell of urine.
Indiana House District 7
The response from INDOT and supporting documents are linked here.