Virginia has the best system in the nation for attracting private funding for public transportation projects, a new study commissioned by the state says.
The state initiated more public-private road projects than any other state in 2012, the report from consultant KPMG says.
Virginia not only leads other states in working with private developers to build roads, but tops several countries, including Australia, Belgium and Canada. Virginia trailed only Great Britain in private-public contracts in 2012. Virginia signed off on about $3 billion in projects last year, Britain had nearly $4.5 billion.
Virginia gets about $6 or $7 in private funding for every $1 it puts into the special projects, the report said.
State Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton said that with strict limits on how much the state can go into debt, it's unlikely the state will be paying the full cost of any road project in the future. Instead, the state will continue to rely on the private sector for funding. Public-private partnerships have been legal in Virginia since 1995 but were given a makeover and some fresh funding in 2010 by Gov. Bob McDonnell.
"The cost of projects continue to go up, along with the risk, and the ability to finance them is becoming very difficult," Connaughton said. "Bringing in private capital and innovation is a way to deliver projects on time and on budget and operate them more efficiently."
Public-private projects often mean higher costs for drivers, however, since private developers usually rely on toll revenue to make back their investment in the roads.
Environmentalists are also waving red flags. The Southern Environmental Law Center issued a report in November that concluded that public-private projects don't get as much scrutiny from the public or the state legislature as roads funded entirely by the state. The public also has no say in how much money a company can make on a road once it's built.
"There's a lack of transparency about these deals. It's totally in control of the executive branch without legislative review," said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. "It's created an all-too-cozy relationship between the industry and state officials that in a way has hijacked transportation planning from the public."