The I-66 upgrade: Public or private financing?
Existing lanes on I-66 should remain free.
Interstate 66 outside the Beltway needs to be fixed. At rush hour, it can seem like a parking lot. It’s clear something has to be done.
The $2 billion to $3 billion project must put taxpayers first in determining what will be the best deal.
It has been long assumed the private sector is more effective than government when it comes to delivering large transportation projects. That may be true in some cases, but not necessarily in all. When hundreds of millions of tax dollars are at stake, we must make sure the taxpayers’ best interests are protected.
Virginia Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne recently hired a consulting team to work with the commonwealth for an “apples-to-apples” comparison of the numbers. That baseline analysis shows that the commonwealth could finance the project, saving up to $600 million and providing up to $500 million in excess revenue when compared with typical public-private partnerships and concession terms previously negotiated by the state on several large projects. That said, Transurban has done an excellent job of building and maintaining the high-occupancy toll lanes on Interstate 495 and Interstate 95.
If the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority finances the I-66 project, any excess revenue should stay in Northern Virginia. The transportation authority should insist on this in writing. Layne said that he supports keeping any excess revenue in our region and that the state will shoulder the revenue risk.
Further, the existing lanes on the I-66 project should remain free for public use. It is critical that the final design cause the least amount of disruption to thecommunity. The possibility of the state completing the project has stirred the pot. Several private-sector entities have responded to the challenge and are working to offer a better deal for the public. The state has released draft business terms for the private sector, including that a private company, if chosen, limit the public contribution to no more than $600 million. The private entity must pay for transit services as well as park-and-ride lots. The terms will not preclude Metro expansion.
The commonwealth’s new law, which I supported, reforms the public-private partnership process to make it more transparent and accountable to taxpayers. The public’s negotiating power has been significantly strengthened so that taxpayers get the best deal, whether it is publicly or privately financed, for a project that is desperately needed.