The I-66 up­grade: Public or pri­vate fi­nanc­ing?

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - DICK SASLAW FAIR­FAX The writer is Demo­cratic leader of the Vir­ginia Se­nate.

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.

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