ARLINGTON, Va. — When he first took office in 2014, Virginia Secretary of Transportation Aubrey Layne said he wanted to make sure politics did not guide his agency on where to make infrastructure improvements or how to fund them.
“I really wanted to be nonpolitical to the extent that I could work with both sides in coming up with solutions in transportation,” Layne told transportation executives April 25. “But also I wanted to see how far I could take business principals in this process of allocating scarce resources.”
Public-private partnerships, one of those funding sources, was the subject of an all-day session at a branch of George Mason University.
“I’m a big believer in P3s,” Layne said, “but very rarely, in a P3, is it a replacement for the public investment.”
Layne doesn’t believe transportation leaders should turn to P3s only when their agencies don’t have money to invest.
“That is not the way to look at P3s,” Layne said. “We should look at P3s as leveraging private investment when it is in the best interest of the taxpayer. The only way I know to do that, is to first determine what it would cost the commonwealth to do the project, and then determine if we bring in private equity and leveraging that is in the best interest of the taxpayers.”
That was the basis of a decision for the Virginia DOT to do a P3 agreement to improve Interstate 66. The private investors could do the project better than the state doing it alone, he said.
“I think a lot of times public-private partnerships are seen as a bit of a stand-alone, instead of a part of a greater whole,” Layne said.
Also at the conference, Amando Madan, senior vice president of Skanska Infrastructure Development, said proponents of public-private partnerships need to improve their promotion of the system's funding structure. Critics often dominate headlines of P3s by pointing to potential drawbacks, such as being “opposed to tolling, not the P3 concept," he said.