Jan. 25, 2011

In new book, economist Richard Geddes argues for private dollars to fix U.S. transportation

America's roads, bridges and highways are failing: In its 2009 report card, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave U.S. transportation infrastructure a "D."

In his new book, "The Road to Renewal: Private Investment in U.S. Transportation Infrastructure" (AEI Press), Rick Geddes, Cornell associate professor of policy analysis and management, offers a host of solutions to repair our decaying transportation system and address the political gridlock that often slows new projects and construction.

Geddes argues for public-private partnerships, which can inject fresh capital into infrastructure improvements and hold government accountable to citizens, who become stakeholders in transportation assets. Without private funds, government spending for roads -- primarily drawn from fuel and vehicle taxes and federal, state and local grants -- will continue to fall short and lead to more crowded and hazardous commutes.

"States and localities are fiscally strapped and don't have the money to maintain existing infrastructure, much less improve it," Geddes said. "At the same time, revenues from gas taxes are falling due to inflation and also as people use more fuel-efficient vehicles. In addition, it is politically impossible to raise fuel taxes in many states and federally, so private investment is the only alternative."

The book notes many other advantages of increased private funding for transportation, including: increased incentives to control costs and deliver projects on schedule; the transfer of risk and costs from taxpayers to private entities; and smarter allocation of resources for repairs and new construction.

Geddes, a research associate at the Mineta Transportation Institute, has previously published books on government and private sector competition and U.S. Postal Service reform.

Ted Boscia is assistant director of communications for the College of Human Ecology.