Update: This letter to the editor ran in the Chicago Tribune on Feb. 9.
The Jan. 26 cover story, “Privatize Illinois tollways? Voters say no,” identified several important issues related to privatizing existing public assets. While private operators may raise tolls, a fair lease agreement can and should include a schedule to limit increases. Equally important to protecting the public’s interest is establishing parameters that govern how proceeds can be spent; it is far better if they go toward capital investments or long-term obligations (such as paying down pension debt), than for short-term budget needs.
The article doesn’t explain that public-private partnerships can be used to build new roads and transit networks, not just lease existing ones. The Metropolitan Planning Council supports Ill. Sen. Heather Steans’ (D-Chicago) bill, which would authorize such partnerships while requiring the Illinois General Assembly and an independent body to review and approve projects before signing any contracts.
The General Assembly approved a capital bill last year, but Illinois still has extremely limited funds available for building new transportation infrastructure. PPPs could attract private investors to needed projects such as Western access to O’Hare Airport, a Peoria connector, the Illiana Expressway, and even new bus rapid transit service in Chicago.
Countries around the world have been using public-private partnerships effectively to generate considerable new investment in their transportation infrastructure. Learning from this growing body of experience, and with the correct criteria in place, Illinois can and should do the same.
Metropolitan Planning Council