On Wednesday, March 5, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Special Panel on Public-Private Partnerships held a hearing entitled "Overview of Public-Private Partnerships for Highway and Transit Projects" to review the role of P3s in delivery of highway and transit projects. The witness list and links to their testimony are as follows:
Mr. Joseph Kile, Assistant Director for Microeconomic Studies, Congressional Budget Office (CBO) Written Testimony
Mr. James M. Bass, Interim Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer, Texas Department of Transportation Written Testimony
Mr. Phillip Washington, General Manager, Regional Transportation District Written Testimony
Mr. Richard A. Fierce, Senior Vice President, Fluor; on behalf of Associated General Contractors of America Written Testimony
The hearing was well-attended by Members of the panel, who all expressed their interest in the issue and usefulness of the hearing, and the question and answer period delved into a variety of subjects, from if and how the federal government should be involved in P3s to exploring specific examples of how P3s would be beneficial.
Both Members and witnesses discussed the importance of evaluating each potential project for its suitability to proceed as a P3. There was wide agreement that P3s are a valuable tool for infrastructure projects, but they are not a “silver bullet” for solving our nation’s infrastructure needs. There were many questions directed at Mr. Kile from the CBO as Members tried to drill down on whether savings exist in the short and long term by using P3s versus traditional financing and project delivery. The CBO’s research is limited by the number of major P3s to examine, but Mr. Kile noted that they are delivered slightly faster and are slightly less expensive. Witnesses also said that P3s, particularly those involving the operation and maintenance of projects, may benefit from efficiencies as the private sector takes into account life-cycle costs during the design and construction of the project.
Members and witnesses also identified environmental streamlining as an area where project timeframes and costs can be reduced. Mr. Bass noted that as a result of MAP-21 provisions, Texas will be taking lead responsibility for environmental reviews, which will create permitting efficiencies. Additionally, as states go through the procurement process with P3s, it is critical that environmental reviews of projects stay on schedule.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-NY), a self-professed fan of P3s, asked panelists whether the PAB and TIFIA programs are structured correctly as is, or if they need expansion. Witnesses universally expressed the importance of these two particular programs to successful P3 projects, with Mr. Fierce of Fluor advocating to lift the cap on PABs.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) expressed some concern at how “private” some P3s are, given the common use of PABs, the TIFIA program, or other federal funding sources to make up a large portion of the project funding. Witnesses clarified that in some projects, the private equity bridges a gap in funding that allows a project to move forward faster than it otherwise could.
Rep. Michael Capuano (D-MA), while saying he likes the idea of finding new tools to upgrade our country’s infrastructure, noted that P3s would play a lesser role if policymakers made the politically unpopular decisions to increase taxes or other fees and fully fund the Highway Trust Fund and local funding sources.
Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI), from a state without a P3 law, focused on eliciting from witnesses what states have had success with P3s. Witnesses pointed to Virginia as a leader, and also to the useful role the U.S. Department of Transportation has taken in bringing together folks with expertise in P3s in various states to share thoughts with other states considering adopting a P3 law.