Testimony by Joseph Kile, Assistant Director for Microeconomic Studies, before the Panel on Public-Private Partnerships, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, U.S. House of Representatives
The United States has a network of over 4 million miles of public roads. That system has faced increasing demands over time: The number of vehicle miles traveled (both passenger and commercial) rose from approximately 700 billion in 1960 to just under 3 trillion in 2012 (see the figure below). In 2012, the federal government and state and local governments spent about $155 billion (in 2013 dollars) to build, operate, and maintain roads. (This testimony adopts the practice of the Federal Highway Administration in using the words “highway” and “road” synonymously.) Almost all of those infrastructure projects were undertaken using a traditional approach in which a state or local government assumes most of the responsibility for carrying out a project and bears most of its risks, such as the possibility of cost overruns, delays in the construction schedule, and, in the case of toll roads, shortfalls in the road’s revenues.
Some observers assert that an alternative approach, using a public-private partnership, could increase the money available for highway projects and complete the work more quickly or at a lower cost than is possible through the traditional method. Specifically, such a partnership could secure financing for a project through private sources that might require more accountability and could assign greater responsibility to private firms for carrying out the work. For example, a private business might take on the responsibility for specific tasks, such as operations and maintenance, and their accompanying risks.
This testimony addresses the potential role of the private sector in two aspects of carrying out highway projects: the financing of projects and the provision (that is, the design, construction, operation, and maintenance) of highways. In particular, CBO concludes the following: