Transportation experts urge caution on toll road bills

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.

  • LittleDavid

    I am going to confess something. While the toll road and 3P debate is very important to me personally (and I am armed to the teeth for why I am right) I need to put the greater good above personal interest.

    I have seen some evidence of attempts by Republicans to appeal to me for my vote, but they are not going to get it.

    As imperfect as them damn Democrats are, they are closer to help me in my attempts to follow Jesus. I appreciate reasonable attempts to keep things reasonable, but if I am forced to choose, I choose the bleeding heart liberal over the unforgiving conservative. It is a difficult choice, but I think when I am forced with two bad choices, I try to do my best to follow the leadership of Jesus.

    Jesus was perfect, and I have got to realize that until he comes back, I am going to have to settle for imperfect leadership from humans. Well, until Jesus comes back, I guess I am going to have to settle for less then perfect leadership from Democrats. In my opinion, while they are not perfect, I have less trouble casting my vote for them then most Republicans.

    WWJD? (What Would Jesus Do). My guess is that Jesus would run as a Democrat if he ran for President. He might turn things upside down within the party, but it would be easier to achieve his objective being a Democrat then dealing with many aspects of that which is wrong with the Republican Party.

    Jesus explained that it is harder for a rich man to get into heaven then it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. What part of that parable do you Republicans not understand?

  • ToR

    Pondering the construction of toll roads and subsiding’s expansion of distribution centers in VA seem like odd bed fellows.

  • Frank

    I guess you would rather have private companies collecting all the toll revenue and sticking us taxpayers with the bill for all the future maintenance costs.

  • LittleDavid

    My experience with 3P (Public Private Partnerships) leading to better roads is this.

    I-80/90 in Indiana was run by the state. It was a wasteful behemoth where high tolls paid for the wasteful gold plating. A few years back, the state of Indiana leased the toll road to foreign investors. What was the result?

    The result was not lower tolls. The investors just eliminated the gold plating and stuck the gold saved in their pockets. Compare that to the still publicly run tollway in Ohio on the same interstate where they have experimented with decreasing toll rates to increase usage.

    Look at the sweetheart deal that will be given to the 3P investors on the Midtown and Downtown tunnel. They get to place tolls on both while only really improving one of them. They get guarantees on the minimum amount the tolls will increase over time so as to minimize their risk and increase the milk given from the cow.

    I am against all toll roads because they are unfair, expensive, and wasteful. I am especially against 3P tollroads, because while they do eliminate the waste, the more efficient management does not result in savings for the traveler, they only result in increased profits for the investors. At least when the tollroad is publicly run, the traveler gets the gold plating for what he pays. With 3P you pay the same price but just get the tin.

    If increased revenue for our highways is needed, raise the fuel tax and do not switch to tollroads. Eisenhower started the switch from tolls to freeways and Ronald Reagan stuck with Eisenhower’s idea because it was so good. Governor McDonnell is no Eisenhower nor does he even deserve to claim to stand in Reagan’s shadow when it comes to how to fund transportation improvements.

    Don’t get me started on the toll road king, Senator Wagner. No concern for the constitution, and every new toll is an improvement in his mind. Let’s make unnecessary improvements just so we can put a tollbooth up and send the profits overseas.

  • Tim J

    Jesus is already the everlasting Lord and we don’t need any more pretenders to the throne.

  • “Politics is the gentle art of getting votes from the poor and campaign funds from the rich, by promising to protect each from the other.”
    ~Oscar Ameringer

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