Monday, May 21, 2007

"One option makes fiscal sense. The other sells out the public for political expediency and corporate profits."

Toll roads take a toll on Virginia

The public-private partnerships are riddled with financial potholes.


The Roanoke Times
Copyright 2007

Virginia's transportation crisis led many lawmakers to seek creative ways to pay for roads without directly asking taxpayers for the money.

One popular solution with the anti-government crowd is allowing the private sector to operate state highways as toll roads. Such public-private deals, however, usually do not serve the public interest.

The system works in several ways, but it boils down to the state's contracting with a private firm to maintain and operate a highway. Sometimes the company will even build the road. Virginians save money on construction and don't have to pay higher taxes.

Except someone has to pay for the roads and corporate profits, and that turns out to be motorists who pass through tollbooths.

Companies involved in such projects aim to make money; the public good is secondary. That has become evident most recently with Northern Virginia's Dulles Greenway.

Toll Road Investors Partnership II operates the 14-mile road that connects Dulles International Airport to Leesburg. TRIP II wants to increase the toll to $4.80, upsetting at least one congressman.

Virginia's Republican Rep. Frank Wolf has asked the state transportation secretary to seek a delay until the General Assembly can review the situation. It turns out the contract with TRIP II doesn't require toll rates to be "just, reasonable or affordable" according to Wolf.

Others in congress have woken up to the problem, too. Several Democratic leaders last week warned governors that handing control to private companies weakens the federal highway system only to funnel money to businesses.

Such are the pitfalls of blindly accepting that the private sector can do every job better than the state.

When government funding is inadequate, leaders have a few options. They can cut a private deal that winds up costing Virginians more in the end, or they can suck it up and admit the commonwealth needs more revenue today to pay for infrastructure.

One of those makes fiscal sense. The other sells out the public for political expediency and corporate profits.

© 2007 The Roanoke Times

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