The Commonwealth Iconoclast

A site dedicated to covering issues relevant to the Commonwealth of Virginia, and nation at large, plus other interesting things too, as I see fit...

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Delegate Saxman (Sort of) Touts Privatization of Roads...


Is this a reasonable compromise, or an evasion of governmental responsibility?

There has been much discussion concerning the future of transportation funding in the Commonwealth. I think we can all agree that improving/maintaining Virginia's transportation infrastructure will cost money, and likely lots of money at that. This puts politicians in a difficult situation. I mean who really wants to raise taxes? Even for something as essential as transportation? Therefore our political leadership often find themselves in the classic "rock and a hard space" - politicos recognize the need to increase funding for certain programs (e.g. transportation) but hate the idea of having to increase/raise taxes in order to do so...fair enough. I'm sure every elected official despises the thought of having to make a difficult decision. After all, don't we elect folks to office exclusively for ceremonial purposes like cutting ribbons and pushing a shovel in a ground for the first time? Geez!

Recently, I've started hearing some elected officials here in the Commonwealth discuss the idea of turning some major road projects over to private contractors as a potential solution to the transportation conundrum facing the Commonwealth (think Haliburton Highway!)...but really, I guess the idea is that the private sector could efficiently provide for future transportation needs, and all we as the citizen would be required to do is pay a toll in return. I think the story ends somthing like this "we lived happily ever after...."

Today in the Daily News-Record, Delegate Chris Saxman (R-Staunton) discusses the potential pros and cons of creating private toll roads (on I-81) as a potential soultion to cronic traffic problems. Delegate Saxman states:

"In California," he said, "they have a private company who guarantees your trip time. If you don’t make it from point A to B in a certain amount of time, you get your money back."

But toll roads would have significant negative effects, too, he said.

Retailers like Wal-Mart, as well as local poultry businesses, would have to change their cost structure and possibly move elsewhere to cover the increased cost of moving goods, Saxman said.

"If you had to pay 40 cents per mile per truck for 1,400 trucks, that adds up," he said.

Although previously suggested, expanding a railway system adjacent to the interstate for the trucks’ cargo, he said, is an unlikely option.

"Unless we give those companies $8 billion, you’re not going to see a lot of that idea gaining ground," he said.

Fortunately, Delegate Saxman doesn't seem to be completely sold on the idea of privatization as a "cure all" to transportation problems in the Commonwealth. Also, an anonymous poster - discussing a related issues on the Iconoclast - provided what I thought was a good analysis of private roads as it relates to our elected officials:

I think what the politicians are talking about with these public private partnerships and creative financing is a scheme to divert public attention for the high cost of transportation away from themselves and redirect it to to the private sector so that voters won't take it out on them on election day. It is hard to beat tough open competitive bidding. If VDOT has to charge tolls, so be it. I agree with the earlier comment- there is no free lunch. If we want to keep moving and have a modern transportation system, it is going to cost us consumers. Let's give VDOT the responsibility and make it as efficient as possible
.


So let the debate continue! Is it the duty of our elected leaders to provide the citizens (and taxpayers) basic services - such as transportation - without having to outsource them to private entities? After all aren't private entities in the business of making money? In theory would this mean that the citizens of the Commonwealth would be paying more for roads in order to return profits to stockholders of some company?

Or - in the case of transportation - would privatization be the most efficient and effective solution to a complex problem? Also, if privatization is the "wave" of the future, could politicians in Richmond (Delegates & Senators) eventually be replaced by more effective and efficient members of a private sector too? Like a Board of Directors? Maybe then our elected officials could spend more time concentrating on cutting ribbons and shoveling dirt?

Tell me what you think!

P.S. Thank you Will for inviting me to join this blog. I do hope to contribute as time permits!

5 Comments:

  • At 6/24/2006 3:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    When private companies complete road projects, who gets the money? Usually not the folks who are out in the sun and cold doing the hard work. They are paid poorly and have few benefits. It's the guys at the top who reap the taxpayer dollars. So the workers aren't very loyal, and may not do the greatest job. When state employees do the work, they are more fairly compensated, and have a "team spirit" and some pride in their work. And, yes, we as taxpayers are going to pay for it one way or another. If we believe in the preservation of the middle class as a way of keeping our society strong, we should look at ways to spread the wealth, not leave it all at the top.

     
  • At 6/24/2006 9:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I think turning our roads over to for-profit entities is silly. Sounds like a recipe for caos. Citing California as an example doesn't really do much for me either.

     
  • At 6/25/2006 11:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Private Toll Roads = Dumb Idea

     
  • At 6/25/2006 6:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    When contemplating the idea of private toll roads, just keep in mind a few things.

    First, the private sector is motivated to make a profit. Period.

    Second, smart people in the private sector expect return on investments commensurate with risk. Why would business people stick their financial necks out too far? Does any one in the Assembly really think the private sector is going to build transportation facilities out of the warm and fuzzy good feelings doing ones civic duty.

    Third and most important, if the private sector does build transportation facilities, just remember, they will indeed charge whatever the consumer can bear. That is business reality.

     
  • At 6/25/2006 6:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I am not entirely against the idea of private toll roads but when contemplating this idea, just keep in mind a few things.

    First, the private sector is motivated to make a profit. Period.

    Second, smart people in the private sector expect return on investments commensurate with risk. Why would business people stick their financial necks out too far?

    Third and most important, if the private sector does build transportation facilities, just remember, they will indeed charge whatever the consumer can bear. That is business reality.

     

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home