Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Privatize Those Bridges!

Any regular reader of this blog knows I am frequent viewer of Fox News in general and Cashin' In in particular. One of the debates through out the business programming day has been infrastructure versus social programs. During the debate, one of the participants -- when reviewing private options -- laughed and said "we are not talking about privatizing bridges." She should, because such an approach is working around the world.

In France, the government worked with a private company to create the Millau Viaduct (photo). This bridge has the highest pylons, highest bridge deck, and highest mast. It is an engineering masterpiece. Both beautiful and functional, it is being funded by the individuals who are using it and not be the general French population who may never have anything to do with it. This approach is refreshing to a country noted for being over taxed and it needs to be done more often.

The Wall Street Journal pointed out that:

In Britain, Margaret Thatcher's privatization movement in the 1980s spurred both the sale of existing government assets and public-private construction projects. Later, the fall of the Soviet Union produced a vast round of privatization of public assets in formerly Eastern bloc countries. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that world-wide there have been more than 1,100 public-private deals in the transportation field alone in the last 20 years, with a value of some $360 billion.

The Journal article also points out that similar projects have come close to my home:

Texas has made private capital a key ingredient in a vast road-building project known as the Trans-Texas Corridor. The state has already entered into a build-and-operate deal with an international consortium (Zachry American Infrastructure and Cintra) to construct a 320-mile toll road for an upfront payment of $1.3 billion to the state and the right of the private owners to operate the toll road for 50 years. In California, a private company is building a nearly 10-mile, $800-million extension of Route 125 south of San Diego in exchange for a 35-year lease to operate the road and collect tolls.

I use that toll road gladly and usually daily. Why should people in Abilene, Texas pay for my toll road? The fact that I have to pay, there are usually less drivers on it and it becomes a more convenient way to travel. One of the things that frustrates me is the ferry off of Galveston that is state funded and doesn't cost a penny to ride. On the boat you hear a message about the "free ferry" funded by "the state of Texas." What is the state of Texas? People who live 15 hours and more away and have never even seen Galveston. These people are forced to pay for it?
If private ownership is involved with bridges, projects will get done on time and within budget.
As far as maintenance, Aristotle argued "that which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it." Again, if private interests are involved, the long term care of the roads is far more assured.

There is no doubt that our infrastructure has been neglected and needs attention. But there is also no doubt, in my mind, that the answers are found in private solutions. (See video above).

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