Potential parties to public-private partnerships can use the year-old Build America Transportation Investment Center (BATIC) to gain the expertise necessary to help improve transportation infrastructure. These partnerships can make the difference between state and local governments advancing critically important projects or delaying them in response to federal funding uncertainty, U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in his keynote address at NCPPP’s P3 Connect 2015 conference, July 20 in Boston.
Failure to upgrade infrastructure will trigger transportation “tsunamis” as the nation’s population grows by 70 million people over the next three decades, he warned. The nation needs to not only maintain and expand existing infrastructure but plan and design to reduce congestion, improve the quality and reliability of existing assets and permit the addition of more capacity.
Launched by DOT in July 2014 as part of the broad Build America Investment Initiative, BATIC helps state and local governments access information about transportation funding and financing, such as private activity bonds and the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) and Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing loan programs, Foxx explained. The center also will share states’ financing strategy best practices with those that lack such experience and help those involved in P3s to ensure that project design and financing elements comply with permitting requirements.
“We want to help folks who are trying to utilize these tools to have the best chance of success,” Foxx said. “[W]e are making sure that folks know about the tools that we do have available.”
Foxx said the center has “some very tangible things to show” for its year in operation. “For instance, the center itself has supported $18 billion in infrastructure investment in just the past year,” he said. “But we want to take some big leaps over the next year.”
Foxx introduced Andrew Right who recently was hired to lead the center. “His job will be to build out the team that will be working on the ground with folks to get critical projects moving,” the secretary said.
The secretary also promised that the center will contact stakeholders directly to learn how BATIC can assist them and conduct “aggressive” outreach to states and private industry and “drill down on which projects to move forward.”
In response to questions posed by the audience, Foxx discussed some challenges transportation project backers face in seeking federal funding and preparing for the country’s future transportation needs.
Although the TIFIA program has been expanding, market uncertainty is stunting project development; as a result, many projects are not mature enough to qualify for the program’s direct loans and other credit assistance options, he said. He also noted that many states want to devise their own contracts rather than using the TIFIA model documents and that that there is “value in demystifying [the TIFIA process] at the state and local levels.”
TIFIA has had a significant impact on major transportation infrastructure projects nationwide. As of June, the program had supported 53 projects with a total of $22.1 billion in financing. Two of the supported projects were recipients of 2015 National Public-Private Partnership Awards from NCPPP: the 495 Express Lanes (Innovation Project Award) and the PortMiami Tunnel (Infrastructure Project Award).
The secretary also called on Congress to pass a long-term highway funding bill and for a national approach toward reducing transportation congestion. To this end, he proposed an initiative modeled after the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program through which the federal government could provide grants to support multi-modal projects in which several states collaborate.
Despite the funding challenges many states face in meeting their transportation infrastructure needs, Foxx remains optimistic about the nation’s ability to meet them, with significant assistance from BATIC.