As participants in the Nashville region’s Moving Forward initiative on transit, we’ve come to learn a lot about innovative approaches to helping people get to work or to school efficiently, rather than wasting time stuck in traffic.
A growing number of states allow for “P3s,” or public-private partnerships, in transportation projects. Two bills now in our General Assembly, SB2093 by Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Rutherford) and HB2407 by Rep. Charles Sargent (R-Williamson), would allow P3s for transportation projects in Tennessee.
P3 projects are attractive for several reasons. They often bring private-sector expertise and innovative approaches. They can help much-needed transportation projects get off the ground more quickly and they tap private capital to take some of the financing burden off of government. Today, public agencies in Tennessee can’t explore P3 projects, but this legislation would give policy makers a new tool to get projects done if the public supports it.
As part of its research, Moving Forward has brought in experts from around the country so we can learn about other communities’ transit systems. In states like Texas, Florida and Virginia, regions have used public-private partnerships to address problems of congestion and traffic safety in a wide variety of ways. But in Tennessee, enabling legislation would be required to allow state and local governments to take the same approach.
Any type of transportation project envisioned by a government entity could also be developed by a private company: highways, managed lanes, streetcars, light rail. In the case of the new commuter rail line between downtown Denver and the airport to be opened this year, the private sector has already proven itself capable of taking on a large-scale transit project faster and more efficiently than government.
Of course, the concept of private transportation infrastructure in Middle Tennessee isn’t a new one.
For much of the 19th century, our ancestors traveled in and out of Nashville on “pikes” built and maintained by private companies.
Farmers and merchants routinely transported goods and crops across rivers on ferries or along toll roads on which a small fee was charged.
Familiar names like Hillsboro Pike, Stewarts Ferry and Murfreesboro Pike were all part of this private transportation system, which dated back to the 1850s.
Getting around the region in a timely and efficient manner is just as important to our Middle Tennessee economy today as it was then. Most of us have at one time or another faced the frustration of wasting time stuck in traffic.
Public-private partnerships are one approach that may allow us to build a transportation system capable of keeping up with our rapidly growing population. We believe P3s are a solution Tennessee should be allowed to explore.
Tom Lampe is vice president of Messer Construction and Ryan Stanton is the head of Smart Cities and Urban Infrastructure for Schneider Electric. They both serve on Moving Forward’s Revenue and Finance Task Force.