A Good Deal for the Public

In Georgia and elsewhere around the country, transportation agencies are increasingly looking toward public private partnerships (P3s) as a way to finance large scale transportation projects.  When they succeed, P3 projects tap private capital to fund useful transportation projects.  When they fail, P3s can provide a financial windfall for private companies while saddling the public with the cost and risk of under-performing transportation projects.  The question isn’t whether P3s are good or bad; the question is how to do them right.

A new report, An Examination of the Virginia Public-Private Transportation Act of 1995, provides a comprehensive analysis of the potential pitfalls of P3 transportation projects in Virginia.  The report was prepared for the Southern Environmental Law Center by Jim Regimbal, a consultant with Fiscal Analytics, Ltd. and a former staff member to the Senate Finance Committee who has over 30 years of experience in state policy analysis.  One of the most aggressive states in the country in its pursuit of P3s, Virginia offers both good and bad examples of what P3s offer.

The report examines Virginia’s P3 history and process, and highlights two recent projects for in-depth analysis (the I-495 Express Lanes in Northern Virginia and the Downtown Tunnel/Midtown Tunnel/MLK Extension in Hampton Roads).  The study also analyzes the substantial policy issues raised by the Virginia’s P3 statute and offers practical recommendations for reform.  These recommendations include:

  • Providing more information to the public (including the cost-benefit analysis) to create a more transparent process, and requiring a public hearing at least 30 days prior to signing a P3 comprehensive agreement;
  • Increasing the role of the state’s transportation board prior to signing a comprehensive agreement and giving the board greater independence;
  • Creating a greater role for the legislature in the P3 process, including a role in approving subsidy levels (particularly debt) and the use of toll facilities;
  • Ensuring that bidding is done in a competitive environment; and
  • Adding fairness considerations that include conditions for: 1) prioritizing state P3 subsidies; and 2) state responsibility for operation and maintenance of a P3 facility.

Georgia’s experience with transportation P3s has been marked by a series of missteps, including an avalanche unsolicited proposals and the ill-fated idea to toll Georgia State Route 316.  But after reworking its P3 provisions in 2009’s Transforming Transportation Investment Act, Georgia is now considering two high profile P3 projects: the billion dollar Northwest Corridor managed lane project and Downtown Atlanta’s Multi-Modal Passenger Terminal.  At a recent meeting of the State Transportation Board, GDOT’s Director of Planning highlighted P3s as one of Georgia’s top transportation priorities.

The 2009 legislation and subsequent rules have improved Georgia’s P3 program from those initial missteps.  And although the report focuses on Virginia’s P3 law, its policy recommendations are equally sound advice in Georgia.  Incorporating these policies as Georgia moves forward with P3s will help the state achieve the ultimate goal of P3s- tapping private capital to advance beneficial transportation projects at the least cost to the public.

Hooked on Oil

Just in time for your Thanksgiving travels, David Gardiner & Associates and the Natural Resource Defense Council released “Fighting Oil Addiction: Ranking States’ Gasoline Price Vulnerability and Solutions for Change.” The report compares, state by state, the percentage of income spent on gasoline and state policies in place to reduce oil consumption.

Both graphically and by the numbers, Georgia doesn’t stack up particularly well against the rest of the country:

Gasoline Expenditures as Percentage of Income

  •  Georgians spent 7.21% of their income on gasoline in 2011;
  • This percentage is the 7th highest nationally (but an improvement over Georgia’s #4 ranking in the 2010 report); and
  • Georgia’s tax credit for fuel efficient vehicles puts it in the middle of the pack for state policies to reduce oil consumption.

A couple other interesting facts:

  • Drivers in the most vulnerable states spent more than twice as large a percentage of their income on gasoline as drivers in the least vulnerable state; and
  • Drivers in every state in 2011 spent a higher percentage of their income on gasoline than they did in 2010.


Did the TIA Election Date Matter?

In the lead up to last July’s TIA referendum, much was made of the July 31 election date.  Strategists and TIA supporters reasoned that the referendum has a better chance of passing during a General Election rather than a Primary Election, so they pushed to change the date during the 2011 Special Legislative Session.  Those efforts ultimately failed and the vote was held last July.

But did the date make a difference? Would the result have been different if the same measure had been on the ballot on November 6th?  Analysis of preliminary data election from the Secretary of State strongly suggests that changing the date would not have changed the outcome.

The July electorate certainly differed from the November electorate, with the obvious difference the higher voter participation during the General Election.  Over the ten county region, 1,069,208 more ballots were cast in November than in July. Participation roughly doubled across the board, with participation rates rising from the mid-30s to mid-70s.

The number of registered voters also increased across the region.  The ten counties added 82,898 more registered voters from July to November, a 4% increase.  This increase was seen evenly across all counties.

 The rationale for moving the election date was that passing the referendum would require higher participation in the urban core counties relative to the suburban ones.  Strategists reasoned that turnout in the core counties would be higher during the General Election, with the Democratic incumbent president at the top of the ticket, than the Primary Election.  This hypothesis is not supported by the data.

A county by county comparison of voting patterns between the two elections does not show a dramatically larger role for the urban core counties.  Every county had higher total numbers and higher percentage turnout, but these increases were roughly equivalent across all counties.  To say this another way, no county had significantly more weight in November than in July.

One will never know what would have happened if the TIA vote had been held on the General Election date.  But assuming that date only influenced the number of voters, rather than the ratio of FOR/AGAINST voters in a particular county (i.e. if 49% of Fulton County voters supported the referendum in July then 49% of voters would also support it in November), one can estimate a result based on General Election data.

Applying the FOR/AGAINST percentages to the county level participation data from the November election, changing the election date only increased support for the TIA by 0.13%.

The TIA failed for many reasons, but it doesn’t seem that the date of the election was a particularly important one.



Lining Up in Atlanta

BBC World Service ran both a print and an audio story on the rise of queues in America, focusing on two examples right here in Atlanta: the Flash Pass program at Six Flags Whitewater and the I-85 HOT lanes.  The piece argues:

It is impossible to implement a priority queue without destroying what is probably the only real benefit of waiting in a good old fashioned line: that sense that we are all in this together. Offering people the choice to buy their way out of the line creates a first class, and a second class.

This Transportation and Public Health Infographic…

… is brought to you by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

(Click on the image to see the infographic in its entirety.)