The tragic bridge collapse in Minneapolis last week should be a wakeup call for New Yorkers. The state's roads and bridges are rated in far worse shape than those in Minnesota, requiring tens of billions of dollars in investments that the state doesn't have readily available.
Unless New York starts tapping new sources of capital, including more money from the private sector, there will never be enough to pay for all the work that's needed, and every project delayed or deferred puts drivers and passengers at risk.
A recent nationwide study by the Reason Foundation rated New York's transportation infrastructure the third worst in the nation, with more than 37% of bridges considered structurally deficient, well above the national average of 24%.
For years the state has scrimped on investments in infrastructure as money funneled into areas like Medicaid, property tax rebates and public sector pay and benefits have crowded out spending on roads and bridges. During the 1990s, for instance, state expenditures for maintenance on roads and bridges, adjusted for inflation, declined by $300 million.
In trying to address this crisis, the state's leaders have strangely ignored the private sector, which has been the source of some $360 billion in infrastructure financing worldwide in the past 20 years. Much of this money has been invested through partnerships in which private consortiums bid for the right to pay for and build roads, bridges and tunnels in exchange for operating them, and collecting tolls on them, for years.
These deals have become common in places like France and England, and are growing in the United States. Texas is using public-private partnerships to help build its massive Trans-Texas Corridor project, a network of some 600 miles of roads, while a private company is building a nearly 10-mile, $800 million extension of Route 125 south of San Diego in exchange for a 35-year lease to operate the road and collect tolls on it.
To understand how such an approach might serve New York, it's useful to think of the predicament the state faces over the Tappan Zee Bridge, which was built in 1955 to last only 50 years and which is rated "structurally deficient." While repairs on the bridge are ongoing, the state needs to replace it, at a cost north of $10 billionmoney New York doesn't have.
But New York could issue a request for proposals from private investors, setting out design specifications, maintenance standards and a schedule of toll rates for years to come, and then see what kinds of bids it gets back.
though a $10 billion project might seem like a big chunk for private investors to handle, there are hundreds of billions of dollars sitting in international pension funds, whose managers are looking to invest in infrastructure projects like this because they provide a steady, predictable stream of income.
Critics complain that it's the government's role to build and operate roads and bridges, not the private sector's. When it comes to very big projects like the Tappan Zee, the choice may not really be between government and the private sector, but between letting someone else do it or not getting it done at all.
Malanga is senior editor of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal.
Original Source: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinions/2007/08/09/2007-08-09_are_new_yorks_bridges_falling_down.html