Thursday, May 17, 2007

House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee: New type of PPP may undermine the integrity of the national transportation system.

U.S. lawmakers discourage projects like Toll Road lease

May 17, 2007

By Maureen Groppe, Washington Bureau
The Indianapolis Star
Copyright 2007

WASHINGTON -- Congressional Democrats are "strongly discouraging" states from entering into public-private partnerships on transportation projects like Indiana's leasing of its Toll Road.

Rep. Jim Oberstar, the Minnesota Democrat who heads the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, recently warned states that his committee would try to undo any agreements "that do not fully protect the public interest and the integrity of the national system."

The committee said that could happen when Congress rewrites federal transportation programs and policies, which are funded through 2009.

"We have become increasingly concerned with a new type of (public-private partnership) agreement that was approved for projects in Chicago and Indiana," Oberstar wrote in a May 10 letter to governors, state legislators and state transportation officials.

The letter also was signed by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., who heads the panel's subcommittee on highways and transit.

The pair said the deals "make good business sense to the companies that are investing in the projects," but they may favor "parochial and private interests" and undermine the integrity of the national transportation system.

A spokesman for the Indiana Department of Transportation said INDOT has no comment on the congressional letter.

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who clashed with DeFazio last year when Daniels testified before Congress about Indiana's project, has called DeFazio a "left-wing extremist" on the issue.
In Indiana, a foreign consortium paid the state $3.85 billion to operate, maintain and collect revenues on the Indiana Toll Road for 75 years.

Indiana did not need the permission of the federal government to approve the lease because the road was built by the state.

Oberstar and DeFazio said the committee issued its warning because of increased involvement by private companies in state transportation projects and because the Bush administration is promoting such deals.

The pair said the U.S. Department of Transportation is "strongly encouraging" states to adopt legislation to allow for public-private partnerships and has created "model legislation" states can use.

The U.S. Department of Transportation did not respond to a request for comment.
The House transportation committee plans a hearing on the topic next week, its second this year.

Contact Star Washington Bureau reporter Maureen Groppe at (202) 906-8118 or at mgroppe@gns.gannett .com.

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