WSDOT review recommends public private partnerships
Earlier this year, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) requested a review on current practices of building megaprojects. Released today, reviewed projects include:
- The Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement Tunnel;
- The 520 bridge replacement.
Mistakes on megaprojects have cost taxpayers in Washington State millions of dollars. As Larry Ehl, a former WSDOT Federal Relations Manager and now an analyst at transportationissuesdaily.com, puts it:
“The miscues have significantly impacted the credibility of and trust in WSDOT in many circles, including the state Legislature. While some miscues were the responsibility of private sector contractors, many of the mistakes are attributable to WSDOT.”
Ehl is referring to the faulty pontoon designs on the 520 bridge project, which may end up costing taxpayers $380 million. He also references the mismanaged Columbia River Crossing project, where light rail would increase the total project cost by 40%. The unfunded CRC project is the subject of a fraud audit by the “audit arm” of the legislature.
The $345,000 report, which mostly discusses internal WSDOT procedure, suggests expanding other methods of contracting, namely Public-Private Partnerships (P3s). The review recommends creating a P3 pilot program, stating:
“Alternative contracting approaches should be considered for mega projects, significant risk projects, complex projects, projects in need of competitive innovations, or time-sensitive projects such as the recent Skagit River Bridge.”
P3s are a very popular way to finance and build construction in other states. Washington State does employ some P3 practices, but has been slow to adopt a moderate P3 strategy. P3s have been proven to reduce cost and lower risk by leveraging private dollars for public use.
Depending on how the P3 is structured, liability shifts from the owner of the project (usually the state) to the contractor.
The Majority Coalition Caucus in the Senate is travelling the state on a listening tour to hear from citizens about a possible transportation tax package. One of their suggested reforms, utilizing P3s, has been a long-standing WPC recommendation to decrease the cost of transportation projects.
See our previous studies on P3s for more information: