House forms special panel on public-private partnerships

By David Tanner, Land Line associate editor | 1/16/2014

Transportation leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives have formed a special panel that will focus on public-private partnerships in transportation and other infrastructure. OOIDA urges truckers to stay in contact with lawmakers on the issues, as many public-private partnerships involve tolls or the leasing of public infrastructure to the private sector.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., and Ranking Member Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., announced the 11-member Panel on Public-Private Partnerships on Thursday, Jan. 16.

Rep. John J. Duncan, R-Tenn., who is the T&I Committee’s vice chairman, will chair the new panel. Rep. Michael Capuano, D-Mass., was named ranking member of the panel, which will last six months and report back to the committee. Meeting dates have not yet been announced.

“Chairman Duncan and the members of the P3 panel will examine the role of public-private partnerships in our infrastructure and where greater opportunities may exist to leverage resources at the federal, state, and local level,” Shuster stated. “The panel’s recommendations will be used as the committee continues to develop future legislation.”

A public-private partnership, also called a PPP or P3, is a contract between a government authority and one or more private companies. In transportation, PPPs typically involve a new roadway, added lane capacity or a bridge replacement. Many times, a PPP comes with tolls.

A PPP can involve the lease of a public roadway to the private sector for cash. Private investors from Spain and Australia leased the Indiana Toll Road in 2006 for $3.85 billion in cash. The payment allows the private company to operate and collect tolls on the roadway for 75 years.

A tolled PPP, such as high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) or high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, is typically promoted as a time saver. The user pays a toll and travels in a specially dedicated lane. An example would be the tolled 495 Express lanes added to the beltway around Washington, D.C.

PPPs can be used to build new roadways from scratch. An example of this “greenfield” approach is the SH 130 toll road in the Austin, Texas, region, which was promoted as congestion relief for traffic on Interstate 35.

An example of a PPP being used to replace a bridge is underway in the Cincinnati area. Officials in Kentucky and Ohio are working on a PPP to replace the Brent Spence Bridge on Interstate 75. The bridge is currently toll free, but its replacement would be tolled according to the plan.

OOIDA opposes the conversion of toll-free interstate roads and bridges into tolled facilities. OOIDA also strongly opposes the lease or sale of existing public roadways, such as the Indiana Toll Road, to private investors.

The Association does not stand in the way of most “greenfield” toll roads built from scratch, but the Association notes that truckers will only use a toll road or tolled lanes if they provide a clear benefit to their operations. Diversion of truck traffic to non-tolled routes comes along with the territory.

The next highway bill due in Congress later this year will most likely contain language on public-private partnerships, especially now that a House panel has been convened to look into the possibilities.

OOIDA urges truckers to stay in contact with members of Congress on the issues.

Republican members of the PPP panel in addition to Duncan are Reps. Candice Miller of Michigan, Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania, Tom Rice of South Carolina, Mark Meadows of North Carolina and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania.

Democratic members of the panel in addition to Capuano are Reps. Peter DeFazio of Oregon, Eleanor Homes Norton of Washington, D.C., Rick Larsen of Washington state, and Sean Patrick Maloney of New York.

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