Private road deals could cost states

The House and Senate are hashing out differences over a transportation spending bill. One of the sticking points is whether to penalize states that use public-private partnerships to run their roads.

David Brancaccio: Action could come in Congress this week on one piece of stalled legislation -- the highway bill. That would be $100 billion to build highway and transportation projects across the country. But there are some questions now about how much money to spend building highway in states that have turned toll roads over to private companies.

Marketplace's Nancy Marshall Genzer reports.


Nancy Marshall-Genzer: I’m standing on New York Avenue in downtown Washington. It becomes U.S. Route 50 when the leaves the city, and it goes across the country. Let’s say a state decided to privatize part of Route 50. Under the new Senate highway bill, it could lose some federal funding.

That’s because of a Senate amendment. Federal highway funding is based in part on how many miles of roads a state has. The amendment wouldn’t let states count privatized toll roads. The thinking is, federal highway funds shouldn’t be used to maintain private pavement.

Joshua Schank doesn’t buy that. He heads the Eno Center for Transportation in Washington.

Joshua Schank: I see this as just finding a way to pick away at their money and not really a smart philosophical argument.

Schank says federal money is never used to maintain toll roads – public or private. The toll money goes toward repairs. Schank says members of congress are trying to get more scarce highway money for their states. And if another state loses out, so be it.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall-Genzer for Marketplace.

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

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