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Report takes aim at Va. public-private roads act

Monday - 11/26/2012, 4:13pm  ET

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. - A study released Monday questions the public benefits of Virginia's Public-Private Transportation Act and recommends the General Assembly play a greater role in overseeing the road-building process.

The study prepared by the Southern Environmental Law Center states that the act was intended to supplement the traditional, publicly funded approach to transportation improvements, but private-public projects now dominate.

"The PPTA is flawed, and this report raises significant doubts about how effectively it serves the public interest," Trip Pollard, a SELC spokesman, said in the statement. "Taxpayers are footing the bill for many PPTA project costs, while the public picks up the rest of the tab through tolls. All too often, the deals have been cut to allow profits to be put ahead of sound transportation planning."

The report states that the consortiums "understandably negotiate to reduce their risk, with as high a return as possible, over as long a time period as possible." It continues, "This evolution in the use of PPTA should not be surprising given the private sector's motivation to maximize return within a low-risk environment."

As a result, the report questions whether the partnerships are producing projects "with as low a price as possible" and whether environmental impacts of transportation projects are being fully considered.

The study said public-private partnerships can complement the traditional system of road building, provided "adequate safeguards are in place to ensure that public interests are protected."

"These safeguards include a more transparent process to the public, independent reviews or project development and procurement decisions, and better rules for managing risk and deciding public subsidy levels," the study concludes.

Among its findings:

_ More transportation decisions are made by fewer people who serve at the pleasure of the governor.

_ The National Environmental Policy Act should be a "starting point" for any transportation project.

_ Even though PPTA guidelines stress the need for competition, that is not always the case.

While only four PPTA projects have been completed since the law's implementation in 1995, 18 more are partially completed, currently under construction, under contract or under consideration.

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Information from: Daily Press, http://www.dailypress.com


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