Promises and Pitfalls in Public-Private Partnerships for Transportation

Robert Puentes
Robert Puentes Vice President and Director - Brookings Metro

July 14, 2009

Private investment in U.S. infrastructure has been described as the #1 emerging market in the world. In fact, this flurry of attention prompted Standard & Poors to warn recently of a dotcom-like pricing bubble. All this has both been welcomed with open arms and met with sharp resistance. A recent poll by the investment banking firm Lazard found that 61 percent of individuals favor private investments in rail, airports, roads and bridges.

Rightly or wrongly, part of the reason for the interest in PPPs today is the pervasive concern about the future of funding and finance with respect to our nation’s transportation system.

One thing is certain: the traditional means of raising transportation dollars is almost out of gas and cannot keep pace with demographic and market forces, metropolitan development patterns, the aging of the nation’s existing infrastructure, and demands for upgrading the outmoded infrastructure we currently have.

This is a lot to lay at the feet of the private sector. By no means should the private sector be called on to play the primary role in filling the funding gap. Nevertheless, it does provide an entry point for a richer discussion about PPPs, and about funding and finance in general. 

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