Maryland mulls public-private partnerships for roads

| 10/12/2006

Maryland Gov. Robert Ehrlich Jr. said the state is interested in doing business with private groups to help finance transportation “mega-projects.”

Joining with private companies would help fund highway and mass transit expansion, the governor said. In return, the state would share the proceeds.

The first likely projects that Maryland will explore for such partnerships include the traffic-chocked Capital Beltway and the Interstate 270 corridor, the Baltimore Sun reported.

“Involving the private sector could help us deliver the relief in years, rather than decades,” Ehrlich said in a written statement.

Joint ventures also could be used for the Intercounty Connector, linking Interstate 95 and I-270. Another would be construction of express toll lanes on the Baltimore Beltway.

Private companies have been invited by the state to submit ideas.

The funding tool is touted by Maryland Transportation Secretary Robert Flanagan who said it could enable the state to move forward with critical projects more quickly.

“Traditionally, a lot of the projects have waited many decades past when they were needed,” Flanagan told the Sun.

With many states struggling to pay for needed transportation work and calls for higher fuel tax meeting stiff opposition, public-private partnerships have become an increasingly popular means for states to finance road and bridge work.

Virginia, California and Texas are among the states with such projects in the works while numerous other states continue talks.

State Highway Administrator Neal Pedersen said Maryland already has authority to enter into agreements with private business, the Sun reported. But any such agreement would be reviewed by the General Assembly.

Flanagan said the state would continue to consider other more conventional methods for transportation work. Among options still drawing consideration to pay for projects are toll-backed bonds and the state’s Transportation Trust Fund.

The state would only consider entering into partnerships on new projects, Flanagan said. In addition, the state doesn’t intend to add tolls to existing lanes or sell any of its toll facilities to private groups, the Sun reported.