Although Baton Rouge may have tunnel vision about relieving rush-hour traffic on Interstate 10, experts at this morning’s Future of Louisiana Commerce & Infrastructure panel discussion say the nation’s model for funding and maintaining infrastructure is broken and that states should look to private-public partnerships to fund future projects.
“The highway model that our whole lives has been there—how we fund, build, manage, upgrade highways—I think is irretrievably broken and it’s going to be replaced, and we need to start working on that replacement now,” says Robert W. Poole Jr., co-founder and director of transportation policy at the Reason Foundation.
Poole says the state has a great opportunity right now to capitalize on P3s because we’re in a legislative session, we already have a P3 law and have unfunded projects. Though state officials such as Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson understand P3s, Poole says, “The question is, can you in this room help make the case to make it a publically thinkable thing to do?”
Bethany Stich, transportation expert and department chair of Planning & Urban Studies at UNO, says it’s important to think of infrastructure as a system. She stressed that looking at one individual city, state or community’s transportation issues is too small. Similar to how veins run through the entire human body, Stich says we should look at infrastructure on a national or global level.
Tommy Clark, commissioner of the Office of Multimodal Commerce at DOTD, also thinks P3s can stimulate infrastructure improvements in the state. Specifically, he thinks the state should use a P3 to connect its five deepwater ports into an alliance, which he says would be the largest in the world.
“We can take the Panama Canal zone model, replicate it on the lower Mississippi River, create this largest world complex and market it to the world. That sets us apart from Shanghai, Dubai, Singapore and Hong Kong. We could be the Dubai of the South,” Clark says. “The future of Louisiana is bright, we just need to get out the way of the private sector.”
The panel discussion was a part of today’s Public Affairs Research Council of Louisiana annual conference.