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Federal infrastructure: Thoughts on successful public-private partnerships

Updated: Aug 15, 2020

Last week, the Senate Environment & Public Works Committee held a subcommittee hearing titled Water Resources: The Role of the Public and Private Sectors. This hearing featured Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, Commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, and others speaking about infrastructure improvements.

As reported by Ariel Wittenberg at E&E News, Gen. Semonite testified that the Corps of Engineers and the Trump administration are crafting an infrastructure funding package for waterways and port projects. Further, the Administration is documenting examples where public-private partnerships might supplement federal funding.

Having spent a career in the Army Corps of Engineers and also having overseen a major public-private partnership (PPP) for infrastructure, I would like to offer a few thoughts on these infrastructure partnerships and how they can be successful:

Why PPPs?

The public voice of our country has sent strong signals that efforts to improve to our roads, bridges and airports are long overdue. One of our great challenges is how to move forward with these needed infrastructure improvements without creating an undue burden on the taxpaying public. A key part of the answer is to share the burden by involving public-private partnerships.

Given the difficulty of securing public funding for major infrastructure projects, it is inevitable that public-private partnerships will be an important part of the Trump Administration’s infrastructure planning. While PPPs may not be the total solution, they are a major step in the right direction for infrastructure modernization.

Project delivery focus

In order for the PPP concept to work, there have to be changes in how these projects will be prosecuted going forward. The traditional management approach to total project delivery must change in order to ensure that the project is completed as soon as possible to generate the revenue when planned.

For the Trump Administration, that means a necessary focus on:

  • Timely delivery of all permits and total project funding in place;

  • A ‘fast track” construction mentality;

  • Design/build project execution, and

  • All Real Estate matters settled.

Agreements are critical

Before commencing, there must be a clear and comprehensive strategic agreement among the public-private partnership members. This agreement should address all responsibilities, requirements and concerns of each partner such as environmental sensitivity matters, incentive agreements, pay back periods and future maintenance or project expansion.

Maj. Gen. (ret) Charles Williams Senior Advisor

A member of the Dawson team since 2016, Gen. Williams was Commander of the Army Corps of Engineers North Atlantic Division. After leaving the Army, he became Chief Operating Officer of the Toll Road Investors Partnership II that designed and built the nation’s first private toll road in more than 150 years. For more, please click here.


The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dawson & Associates.


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