“Great Debate” panel, left to right: ARTBA Chairman Bob Alger, chairman of the board of The Lane Construction Corporation; panel moderator Sia Kusha of Plenary Group; Joe Wingerter, vice president project development at Kiewit; and Jim Ray, former senior adviser at the U.S. Department of Transportation.

By Mark Holan, editorial director, & John Schneidawind, vice president of public affairs, ARTBA

Professionals from transportation design and construction firms, federal and state government, and the legal and finance sectors gathered July 17-19 in Washington D.C., for the 31st Annual Public-Private Partnerships (P3) in Transportation Conference. In spirited panel discussions, industry experts discussed shifts in P3 risk, the impact of federal deregulation, and new market opportunities.

“It’s common to belittle the outlook for action on infrastructure, but over the last two years we’ve had $10 billion of additional investment,” ARTBA President and CEO Dave Bauer said in remarks to open the conference. “The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is working on a reauthorization bill one year early instead of multiple years late. It’s hard to say we are not making progress.”

Bauer emphasized, however, that, “While we are not where we want to be, we are clearly moving in the right direction.”

This year’s “Great Debate,” a favorite feature of the annual conference, featured a spirited discussion: “Are P3s Even Worth It? Differing Views on the Risk Appetite for P3s.” Some points included whether too much risk has shifted to builders from designers; from the public to the private sector; and whether too much contract language is “cut and pasted” from one project to next.

“We are at a crossroads,” said ARTBA Chairman Bob Alger, chairman of the board of The Lane Construction Corporation. He said that multi-billion dollar “mega projects are out of control” when it comes to the risk placed on builders.

Joe Wingerter, vice president project development at Kiewit, said “P3s have moved down the list” of preferred business opportunities. Like Alger, however, he said his firm will remain in the P3 market.

Freight-related projects are a developing P3 market opportunity, said Donald Ludlow, CPCS’s U.S. vice president and a principal with the company, said during another panel. “Freight is growing faster than automobile,” he said. 

The projects are on the smaller scale: truck parking on long-haul corridors; short distance oversize and overweight corridors; and intermodal facilities, especially between rail and trucks.

Mark Romoff of the Canadian Council of Public Private Partnerships noted that every U.S. state has different P3 legislation. “Getting states to harmonize a more collective approach would make a huge difference,” he said, but acknowledge that’s easier said than done. 

Key officials from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), the White House, and several state lawmakers and transportation department leaders addressed P3 legislative, regulatory, and market issues. ARTBA recognized two individuals and two transportation projects with Public-Private Partnership (P3) Awards.

ARTBA’s P3 Division also announced new officers to one-year terms: President – Joe Wingerter of Kiewit; First Vice President David Spector of KPMG; and Second Vice President – Charlie Kilpatrick of Lane Construction. New division directors are: Deborah Brown of WSP; Mike Kirk of WSP; Chris Larsen of Itinera Infrastructure and Concessions; Sue Lee of EY; Gail Lewis of Arizona DOT; and Ken Smith of HDR Engineering.

New P3 Division President Joe Wingerter of Kiewit, with immediate past president Jennifer Aument of Transurban.