By John Schneidawind, vice president, public affairs, ARTBA

Expect public-private partnerships, or P3s, to continue playing a role in the post-pandemic transportation construction market, a panel of industry practitioners Nov. 9 told ARTBA’s Southern Regional meeting.

Participants included Charlie Kilpatrick, vice president at Lane Construction; David Spector, director – infrastructure advisory at KPMG; Tom Stoner, vice president at H. W. Lochner; and Chuck Wall, partner at Seyfarth Shaw LLP. Sia Kusha, group head of project development and planning for Plenary Group, moderated the panel, who are also leaders in ARTBA’s P3 Division.

The prevailing conventional wisdom is that P3s have primarily enjoyed support under Republican administrations, including that of President Donald Trump. But the panelists said P3 projects have historically garnered political support across party lines.

“We’ve seen Democratic administrations support P3s in a very robust manner in a number of states,” Stoner said.     

Kilpatrick observed that the P3 approach to major transportation projects enjoyed support in both the administrations of former Virginia governors Bob McDonnell, a Republican, and Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat. Kilpatrick predicted that a Biden transportation infrastructure package would incorporate private investment to some extent. Kilpatrick also expressed hope that such a proposal would reaffirm the importance of both highway and transit funding.

Given Biden’s support for green transportation solutions, “there’s a natural inclination to emphasize mass transit, rail and buses,” but he thinks highway funding “won’t be left out in the cold – and it won’t be this battle to see who gets a bigger slice of the pie,” Kilpatrick said.

Spector, ARTBA’s P3 Division president, emphasized that P3s can help address the growing need for “last mile delivery.” He noted the COVID-19 pandemic has seen an upswing in traffic from UPS, FedEx, and Amazon delivery vehicles bringing food, business supplies, and other goods to people working from home and who have otherwise preferred to utilize ecommerce.

The growth in urban freight is a major opportunity for P3 projects in a Biden administration preoccupied with battling the pandemic, agreed Chuck Wall, who specializes in transportation construction law at Seyfarth Shaw. “My hope is that the transportation discussion gets off the ground early, as there will be a lot of pressure to move projects forward,” he said. “What we don’t want to have is stagnation, particularly in light of the need for recovery from the pandemic.”

Whatever support the P3 concept enjoys among federal and state policymakers, Wall said these features are necessary for success: 

  • An owner/client with an experienced advisory team.
  • Buy-in from state legislators who are updated as a P3 project progresses.
  • A clear understanding of how P3 projects are financed.
  • Accurate project timing, “not bringing a project prematurely to market.”

Numerous expert presenters will address similar market and policy issues during ARTBA’s 33rd Annual P3s in Transportation Conference in July 2021. Check Washington Newsline for more information in the coming months.