A recent poll commissioned by the Bay Area Council found that citizens are keenly aware of the critical infrastructure needs facing the Bay Area and that they're very open to the idea of private sector infrastructure financing to help solve the problem. According to the San Francisco Chronicle:
Potholes, traffic jams, eroding levees and overcrowded schools have apparently convinced Bay Area residents it's time for major infrastructure improvements, according to a regional poll released Thursday.
The poll, by the Bay Area Council, found that 87 percent of residents surveyed thought that Bay Area governments had a serious problem maintaining schools, bridges, roads, parks, levees and hospitals and building new infrastructure.
Perhaps even more striking is the finding that a strong majority support the increased use of public-private partnerships (PPPs) to improve infrastructure:
While the poll did not ask voters whether they would be willing to raise taxes to pay for infrastructure improvements, it did ask if they would support public-private partnerships to help pay for specific types of improvements.
The partnerships, used in other states and countries, would allow such things as a private developer building a school and leasing it back to the school district, or building and operating a toll road or bridge in exchange for a portion of the revenues.
A strong majority of those surveyed said they would favor such an arrangement to fund infrastructure projects in the Bay Area, and the support varied only slightly by type of project. Hospitals and recreational facilities won the strongest backing for use of private-public partnerships with 71 percent each, followed by public transit at 70 percent, schools at 68 percent, and roads and highways at 65 percent.
One take-away from this is that Bay Area residents clearly see a problem and are open to new and innovative approaches to addressing it. Another is that even in an area regarded as a bastion of progressive thought, citizens are quite open to proven private-sector infrastructure delivery solutions.
At the political level, we know that PPPs are not a partisan issue, as evidenced by the fact that officials of all stripes are embracing them (including prominent Democrats like Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, and Virginia Governor Tim Kaine). But it's great to see that the message is getting out to the electorate as well, with pragmatism and problem-solving clearly trumping ideology in the minds of Bay Area residents.
If the political leaders in Sacramento would hurry to catch up, then we'd really have something, as my colleague Adam Summers wrote earlier this year in the Orange County Register. And to be fair, the Legislature has started to take some steps in that direction and has a number of different PPP bills in the pipeline this session. And Governor Schwarzenegger has been quite active, criss-crossing the state touting the virtues of PPPs as part of his Performance-Based Infrastructure initiative.
Let's hope that leaders are able to come together and get something done this session, because clearly the electorate is looking for solutions.
For some recent studies exploring the potential for transportation PPPs in California, see here, here, and here. And see Bob Poole's August 2007 OC Register op-ed here. For a more comprehensive overview of the role for tolling and PPPs in transportation, see here. Lastly, Lisa Snell examines the potential for innovative school facility PPPs here.