Jennifer Aument is president, North America, of ARTBA member firm Transurban, an international toll road investor and operator managing the development, delivery and operations of successful transportation public-private partnerships (P3s). Aument also is president of ARTBA’s P3 Division, which hosts its annual conference July 17-19 in Washington, D.C. The discount room rate deadline is June 25. Visit the conference website to see the full agenda and register.
TB: What do you see as some of the latest trends or challenges in transportation P3s?
AUMENT: We have seen real momentum in the U.S. P3 market over the last decade, with more than $145 billion in transportation infrastructure projects moving forward and an increasing number of state and local leaders embracing partnerships with the private sector. ARTBA members have been instrumental in helping achieve this progress, but there are dynamics underway in the market that could hinder future progress.
Over time, we have seen project sponsors and their advisors shift greater risk to the private sector, which can unnecessarily increase project costs or reduce scope. Successful and sustainable P3s take a more balanced approach, with specific risks assigned to the partner best positioned to manage them. For example, governments protect taxpayers when they shift traffic risk on toll roads to a private partner with the expertise and technology required to predict trends over decades. In contrast, public sector professionals often have far better experience and leverage than their private counterparts in securing certain regulatory or environmental approvals. Shifting these kinds of risks to the private sector can work against the interest of taxpayers by unnecessarily increasing costs, delays improvements or reducing scope.
Also of concern, a few recent high-profile P3 projects have faced challenges during the permitting and construction phases, resulting in claims and delays. While studies in mature P3 markets such as the U.K. and Australia consistently find that P3 projects are delivered on time and on budget at rates higher than traditional projects, it is inevitable that some large, complex projects will face unique obstacles – no matter what delivery method is used. It is critical that ARTBA and its members continue to educate government decision-makers on the growing list of successful P3s to ensure project-specific issues do not reflect poorly on a now proven and successful model.
TB: As an established woman leader in transportation construction and the P3 sector, what are some of the remaining challenges—and opportunities—that you see for women?
AUMENT: Women hold only 13 percent of transportation jobs. With half of our colleagues expected to retire over the next decade, the industry cannot continue to leave great talent sitting on the sidelines.
At Transurban, women are 43 percent of the global workforce and nearly half of top executives. We embrace training and education; ensure diverse recruitment pools from which hiring managers select the best candidate; conduct regular reviews to ensure equal pay; and track and report results in this area just as we do other key performance metrics like safety and revenue.
These kinds of practices help link companies to talent and create opportunities for women. It is equally important to promote cultures and tools that help women achieve long-term success. I know from personal experience that it takes extra energy to be the only woman in the room – managing complex issues, while also dealing with micro-aggressions that many of us still experience daily. Until the transportation workforce is in greater balance, it is important that managers are conscious of this potential dynamic, educate all team members on the impacts of often-subconscious bias, and provide female colleagues with resiliency skills to ensure they do not burn out.
TB: As ARTBA’s P3 Division president this year, what do you see as the value for being involved in its activities?
AUMENT: ARTBA and its members can take much credit for the expansion of P3s in the U.S. It is a privilege to be part of the leadership that has secured critical legislation over the last three decades – from the use of federal funds for new toll highways to preserving Private Activity Bonds, which were at risk recently.
Still, we know the U.S. market is lagging. Of $120 billion spent on transportation infrastructure globally in 2017, only 13 percent of that investment was put to work in North America. We need to do better and must continually educate Washington decision makers about our experiences of P3s working for governments, taxpayers, and businesses.
ARTBA is bringing together the best of the industry, including contractors, designers, public officials, and P3 professionals – all working to tackle challenges and achieve allied goals. It has been energizing to join these advocates to drive our industry forward.
Learn more about ARTBA’s P3 Division.