Are Privately Owned Roads in the Public's Interest?

Eric Jaffe traces the uneven history of private sector involvement in road construction and management. The involvement of public-private partnerships will likely continue to grow, despite the potential pitfalls.

"Public-private partnerships for infrastructure (often called PPPs or P3s) have been on the rise in recent years, and many experts believe the trend has yet to peak," observes Jaffe. "But as public-private partnerships become more common, there's a heightened fear that local governments are giving away too much in the deal. Some scholars, public interest groups, and lawmakers caution that PPPs often fail to deliver the improvements they promise, cuff the hands of local officials for generations, undermine comprehensive urban planning, and threaten the core value of roads as a public service. For every new attempt at PPP success, they say, there are multiple examples of partnerships that failed."

"No amount of concern is likely to curtail the rising interest in public-private partnerships," he adds. "Rather, their use only stands to increase as governments at all levels continue to struggle with new methods for funding transportation projects. Besides, PPPs offer elected officials the glitter of ribbon-cutting with the grit of fiscal austerity — all while limiting their responsibility for any toll hikes that might occur. They're high-quality political catnip."


Full Story: The Uncertain Future of Public Roads

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