Public-private partnerships could help fund needed repairs to U.S. bridges (with related video)
Today, there is an $8 billion funding gap for bridge repairs in the U.S. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) estimates that to eliminate the nation’s bridge deficient backlog by 2028, we would need to invest $20.5 billion annually. Currently, governments are only spending $12.8 billion to patch up bridges. The latest infrastructure report card gave U.S. bridges a grade of C+.
Here are the views of Al Maloof, who has more than 20 years of experience working on infrastructure projects, and is a public-private partnership (PPP) expert. He recently served as a member of the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority board of directors, and has been involved in billions of dollars of transportation projects. He recently spearheaded the passage of a transportation funding mechanism in south Florida. Maloof is a proponent of using public-private partnerships to redevelop transportation infrastructure. He is the managing director of Miami-based GJB Consulting, and holds a doctorate in public administration.
GPN: What is the current condition of U.S. bridges?
Al Maloof: Bridges usually are 35- to 50-year structures. Most of the bridges in the U.S. are probably 40 or 45 years old, give or take a few years. So many U.S. bridges are at the end of their useful life. What happens with a bridge structure is that people take it for granted. They feel that once it’s built, the public’s responsibility or the need to maintain that structure has ended. But with constant use and wear and tear, bridges, like other infrastructure, need to be refurbished, They need to be monitored on a regular basis, because of deterioration and stresses, that can include overweight vehicles, crashes, weather-related deterioration, and other hazards that impact the structural integrity of a bridge. Stresses need to be factored into an agency’s regular maintenance & upgrade program for the bridge.
GPN: So public-private partnerships (PPP) can be a tool to get bridges refurbished?
AM: Absolutely. I’ve been approached by a number of consortiums, both international and domestic, that have expressed interest in proposing PPP vehicles to local governments that operate bridges and toll roads. The PPPs would not only assist local governments in maintaining these kinds of structures, but also to bring the private sector into the transaction. The PPPs and the private sector could use their experience, expertise and knowledge in ensuring that the bridge is preserved and can be maintained and operated at optimal capacity.
GPN: Can special districts or tax financing districts be used to refurbish bridges?
AM: Yes, special districts would be yet one additional option for local and state governments. The districts could be used to set up a funding mechanism to both manage and maintain bridges in their areas.
GPN: What funding sources should governments tap for bridge repairs?
AM: You can have a sales tax, but you can also have a VMT — a VMT is a vehicle-miles-traveled fee—coincidentally, VMTs have extraordinary support on Capitol Hill. Federal lawmakers are considering endorsing transitioning from a gas tax, which has been fixed for decades, to a VMT, so that commuters actually pay more of a pro-rata share for what they use. This is a true user fee. It pegs drivers’ payments to their use of roads, and it solves the funding problem caused by the new hybrid cars that use less gas. In the U.S., you have electric vehicles that don’t use any gas, but yet they are using the roads. So, does that mean that electric vehicle drivers no longer have responsibility to assist in a small way in helping pay for the maintenance of roads that they travel on? We need an equitable approach, so the VMT is one solution that is being considered that may end up working. It’s becoming very popular, once people understand its application.
GPN: Do you have any advice for state and local government administrators on the best ways to get needed bridge repairs?
AM: I would actually poll the public. I’m big on public opinion polls and focus groups to take the temperature, if you will. I would use public opinion data and research to determine what the tolerance is of the public to support their infrastructure.
You need to communicate with your electorate. You need to have a measure of the pulse of the community, not only the user community, but also the contractor, engineering, and banker-finance communities, to come up with the very best of transportation infrastructure funding concepts that would be most efficient to use in specific regions of the U.S. It does vary from region to region, based on a particular region’s needs.
Thank you, Al Maloof.
In this video, learn how thousands of bridges around the U.S. may be one freak accident or mistake away from collapse, even if the spans are deemed structurally sound.