When the city of Chicago inked a deal privatizing the parking meters for the next 75 years, the public was outraged – not just over a confusing new pay system and incremental fee increases, but by the process that led to the deal and subsequent use of funds.
While this incident continues to rankle Chicagoans, it’s important to recognize that cities and states around the world have been using public-private partnerships (PPPs) effectively to generate considerable new investment in their transportation infrastructure. It’s possible to do the same in Illinois – where capital reserves are severely depleted and transit and road systems badly in need of repair – if we develop standards for PPPs, including a transparent process and a promise to invest funds back into our transportation system.
Indeed, PPPs can be a good thing: Cities are saving as much as 40 percent in construction costs, improving transportation services and ridership, and reducing traffic congestion by working with private companies to build and operate transportation systems. Some 26 states, including our neighbors, Indiana, Minnesota, and Missouri, have laws enabling PPPs and these benefits – but Illinois does not. Ill. Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago) is working to change that this year through the Public-Private Partnerships for Transportation Act, which MPC supports.
The Public-Private Partnerships for Transportation Act promotes the sound development and operation of new transportation infrastructure projects and lease of existing infrastructure assets. This bill would require the Illinois General Assembly and an independent body to review and approve all potential projects before issuing requests for proposal or signing any contracts.
How would the parking meter lease be different if this law were on the books 18 months ago? Instead of 81 percent of the revenue from the deal being used within one year to fill budget gaps, revenues would have been reinvested in our transit and road systems. There also would have been a clear process in place to ensure the public’s interest was being met and public benefit maximized.
Private investment in infrastructure can generate as many as 1.5 million jobs in the United States – jobs people today really need. While China and Europe invest between 9 and 12 percent of their GDPs in infrastructure, the U.S. is way behind, spending just 2 percent GDP. The Public-Private Partnerships for Transportation Act will allow Illinois to increase potential investment capital and more efficiently deliver infrastructure improvements, while setting standards for public-private partnerships – all ideas MPC supports.