West Virginia considers public-private roads bill

| 2/19/2003

West Virginia lawmakers are looking at legislation that would allow private investors to contribute funds to help build state highways and bridges.

A similar public-private transportation law exists in Virginia. Virginia Highways Commissioner Phillip Shucet has referred to it as “another tool in the toolbox.”

The public-private partnership can be good in times of budget constraints, Shucet told The Charleston Gazette. But he said the private sector had to be willing to take financial risks.

“The decision I try to make is does this proposal contain enough risk in the private sector to forgo the competitive bidding, and to negotiate what is a sole source contract,” he said. “I’m not suggesting the private sector take all the risks.”

The state must be watchful, he said, that the private investor is taking sound risks. If a private investor proposed to sell bonds and recoup all of his money through tolls, he can’t find three years out that the tolls aren’t adequate, Shucet added.

HB2873 says no more than 2 percent of the amount of the West Virginia Division of Highways’ competitively bid projects can be dedicated to public-private projects.

Under the measure, DOH would be responsible for all maintenance after a project’s completion. The bill would preclude tolls or user fees on existing interstate highways or free roads and bridges unless reconstructed at increased capacity.