WASHINGTON — The top transportation official at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce defended the potential benefits of public-private partnerships, amid back-to-back congressional hearings this month during which lawmakers questioned whether infrastructure projects backed by private dollars were right for rural areas.
“There’s certainly communities where P3s don’t make sense,” Ed Mortimer, the chamber’s executive director of transportation infrastructure policy, said at the Bipartisan Policy Center on Feb. 13. “We didn’t take it as a negative, the comments at those hearings. We took it as rural America needs investments that perhaps are a little different than other communities.”
As transportation authorizers begin to craft an infrastructure funding package, there should be a combination of public investment and private capital that would help advance big-ticket projects. To that point, P3s should be seen as a tool in an infrastructure funding toolkit, Mortimer added.
Sue Gander, director of environment, energy and transportation at the National Governors Association, agreed.
“It’s not a one-size fits all,” she said. “It’s not going to be right for every project, therefore not right for every state or every area.”
Two transportation committees this month called into question the potential benefits of P3s in advancing infrastructure projects. Lawmakers representing suburbia and exurbia were critical of P3s. They “do not work for rural areas,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said at a hearing he led Feb. 8.
The recent indication from the White House is that it intends to advance an infrastructure funding proposal centered on such partnerships. A day after the EPW hearing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters President Trump reaffirmed his commitment to forging “public-private partnerships that will rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure.”
Republican leaders and the Trump White House have yet to say when they intend to unveil an infrastructure funding package.