Mineta: Private money needed to relieve highway congestion

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Easing highway congestion likely will require greater partnering with the private sector, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta told a transportation conference. Mineta noted in his May 10 speech to the Bear Stearns Global Transportation Conference that trucking companies shoulder $14 billion in annual costs from congestion through wasted time and fuel. On top of this, the transportation sector is growing, and transportation manufacturers such as truck makers are hiring new workers.

“But I am convinced that a big part of the answer is to involve the private sector more fully – not just as a contractor or vendor, not merely as a financier, but as a partner in the funding, management and expansion of our transportation infrastructure,” he said. Mineta noted serious re-examinations of the aviation and highway trust funds are under way. He has asked department leaders for a comprehensive plan for reducing major U.S. congestion chokepoints and will debut his plan this week.

The secretary mentioned private-public partnerships, such as Indiana’s recent decision to lease the Indiana Tollway to a private business, and Texas’ and Virginia’s expansion of their highway systems via private money. He also noted PierPASS, the not-for-profit company whose work has reduced congestion and improved Los Angeles and Long Beach port air quality.

The long-term surface transportation bill that became law in August allows states to implement direct user-fee mechanisms, such as tolling. It gives private businesses the opportunity to enjoy the tax-exempt benefits the public sector receives when building a public highway. The new law also expands current federal credit programs that will allow financing of projects such as intermodal freight plans.