Senate subcommittee downplays public-private partnerships

| 4/16/2008

A Senate subcommittee on transportation discussed the need for an increased federal investment in infrastructure during a hearing Wednesday, April 16, downplaying the current administration’s call for more public-private partnerships and tolling.

One panelist who testified before the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee’s Subcommittee on Transportation and Infrastructure said U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters’ push for more PPPs and tolling is disheartening.

“Those comments have been suggesting that this is a choice between public-private partnerships and the status quo and that there’s somehow not anything in between,” testified Edward Wytkind, president of transportation trades development for the AFL-CIO.

“The truth is that the private sector has always had a significant role in our transportation industry in this country.”

Wytkind said the Indiana Toll Road and Chicago Skyway are examples of PPPs that involved toll roads auctioned off to the highest bidder without the public interests in mind.

“We haven’t taken a formal position against all of them,” he said. “We have said, though, that there’s a lot of very, very complicated public-policy questions about what you do with people’s assets before you let private interests come in, write the check, and take something over for 99 years and then extract all the profit revenues out of it with very little accountability.”

“It’s not about whether the private sector belongs in the debate. It’s whether we should be shoving this large public asset out there and giving it over to the private sector, and I think that should give us some pause.”

The subcommittee is chaired by Sen. Max Baucus, D-MT. Sen. Larry Craig, R-ID, a member of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, asked several questions of the panelists.

While addressing questions from Craig, ATA Board of Directors Chairman Ray Kuntz said a side-effect of toll roads is that truckers are being forced to use less-safe toll-free roads.

Craig replied to the obvious.

“If you have toll roads and non-toll roads in this instance, I would guess you would gravitate towards the non-toll roads,” Craig said.

Chairman Baucus promised more hearings on the subject of transportation funding, calling Wednesday’s hearing the first in a series.

Also providing testimony to the subcommittee on Wednesday were Siva Yam, president of the U.S. America-China Chamber of Commerce and John Isbell, global logistics director for Nike apparel. For more information on the hearing, click here.

– By David Tanner, staff writer