Fri Dec 21, 2012, 12:27 PM
HoosierRadical (216 posts)
Highway Robbery: How "public -private" partnerships extract private profit from public infrastructur
In 1995, California granted a private company the right to construct express toll lanes along the State Route 91 freeway in Orange County, a region inhabited by millions, with some of the heaviest traffic flows in the nation. This was the first modern privatized highway in the United States. The California Private Transportation Company (CPTC), a partnership of three corporations—Level 3 Communications, Granite Construction, Inc., and the French toll operator Cofiroute SA—completed the project with $130 million in mostly privately sourced money. To recoup this expense, and to make a profit, CPTC was given a 35-year concession to operate the toll route. State leaders promised that the private company would provide greater efficiency and savings, and that the public would benefit from clear and safe roads, even during a time of government budget constraints.
It did not take long for things to unravel. The SR-91 toll lanes did not unclog what local traffic reporters referred to as the “Corona Crawl,” so state and local officials sought to expand nearby highways to ease worsening congestion and improve safety. When transportation offices announced the improvement plans, CPTC unexpectedly filed a lawsuit, citing a non-compete clause in their contract to build and operate the toll lanes. The people of California were legally blocked from improving their highways because it could reduce private profits. In 2003, the Orange County Transportation Authority was forced to purchase the SR-91 toll lanes for $208 million to put an end to the fiasco.
In 2004, California’s state legislature halted the experiment in privatizing highways. But that did not stop other states from pushing forward with privatization. In Virginia and Texas, several major privatized freeways were built in the 2000s. Then, in 2009, things came full circle. California once again authorized so-called public-private partnerships to procure highways and other public goods. Although privatization of transportation projects has a tarnished record, owing much to California’s costly experiments over a decade ago, all across the United States major highway and other infrastructure upgrades are once again being handed over to private investors, now under the moniker of “public-private partnerships,” or P3.
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