Writing on the Reason Foundation’s blog, transportation experts Robert Poole and Shirley Ybarra (a former Virginia Secretary of Transportation) offer some wary words regarding legislation now under consideration by the Virginia General Assembly. (The title of the article sums it up: “Virginia Needs to be Cautious and Not Ruin Its Public-Private Partnership Track Record.”)
The bills that concern Poole and Ybarra are HB 1238 (patroned by Delegate Scott Lingamfelter) and SB 639 (patroned by Senator Frank Wagner). Sharp-eyed Bearing Drift readers will recognize that I wrote about other aspects of these bills on January 22.
Specifically, Poole and Ybarra worry that provisions in the bills that would establish a Virginia Toll Road Authority may have a disorienting effect on Virginia’s longstanding and successful record in public-private partnerships in transportation. (The authority would be created in Chapter 20 at the very end of the bills, titled, naturally, “Virginia Toll Road Authority Act of 2012.”)
Poole and Ybarra note that
Virginia is considered one of the leaders in public-private partnerships completed and underway since the passage of the Public Private Partnership Act of 1995 (PPTA). Numerous projects have been undertaken bringing innovative financing and new ideas to the Commonwealth such as the new Express Lanes on the Capital Beltway. Other states have used the PPTA as their model for legislation as they moved to join the era of public-private partnerships.
They add their “particular concern” that
the toll authority might decide to compete with the private sector for potential public private partnership (PPTA) projects, using its governmental status to gain a “leg up” on the private sector. For example, several years ago in Texas a long-established toll agency intervened in a public-private partnership procurement at the last minute, after the winning bidder had already been selected, and used its political clout to prevail. It subsequently persuaded the legislature that public sector toll agencies would, from now on, have the right of first refusal on any new toll roads within its metro area-regardless of whether its proposal offered the best value.
Poole and Ybarra point out that a similar arrangement in Texas has led to “world-class toll companies” avoiding that state, with detrimental effects. “By contrast,” they add,
Virginia continues to attract the cream of the crop of infrastructure investment funds and experienced toll road developer/operators for projects like the Beltway Express Lanes and the Mid-Town Tunnel in the Hampton Roads area.
The two transportation experts conclude their analysis by suggesting that the creation of a Virginia Toll Road Authority is “a solution in search of a problem.”
To which I might add, that’s a phrase that describes a good many legislative proposals in the General Assembly.