Commentary

Virginia Department of Transportation Abandons the Public-Private Partnership Proposals for the Port

Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton announced September 10 that the Commonwealth of Virginia will not give further consideration to three unsolicited bids from companies seeking a long-term operating concession at the state-owned marine terminals in the Port of Hampton Roads. I had written about the original proposals here and here.

The proposals to the Virginia Port Authority (VPA) were submitted in 2009 amid a recession. The Port may have been valued on the low side at the time.

Secretary Connaughton noted that the cargo volumes moving through the Port have steadily increased. He also cited the significant change in value of the port given the 20-year lease the VPA recently executed for privately owned APM Terminals in Portsmouth (July 5, 2010) Having operational control at that facility dramatically increases the efficiency and cargo handling capabilities of the Port increases the collective value of the VPA’s terminals, said the Secretary.

Although the process of reviewing the unsolicited bids is ending, the Commonwealth will undertake an evaluation of the VPA and its operating affiliate, Virginia International Terminals, to determine the advantages of privatizing all or part of their operations in the future. This evaluation will be undertaken during the next year.

With the extreme competition between and among ports, it is important that the review consider the impact of the expansion of the Panama Canal and the challenges posed by other ports making the public-private deals to expand their ports and operations.

Shirley Ybarra is a former senior transportation policy analyst at Reason Foundation, a nonprofit think tank advancing free minds and free markets.

Ms. Ybarra served as Secretary of Transportation for the Commonwealth of Virginia from 1998 to 2002, overseeing a budget of $3.2 billion and a staff of 13,000 people. Between 1994 and 1998, Ybarra was Virginia's Deputy Secretary of Transportation.

Ybarra also served as senior policy advisor and special assistant for policy for U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole from 1983 to 1987. In that role, Ybarra managed the transfer and privatization of Dulles and National Airports to the Washington Metropolitan Airport Authority.

Ybarra authored Virginia's Public-Private Transportation Act of 1995, considered the model public-private partnership legislation in the United States.

In 2001, Ybarra received the American Road and Transportation Builders Association's "Public-Private Ventures Entrepreneur of the Year Award" for her leadership in designing innovative infrastructure financing.

She holds a Master's degree in Economics and a Bachelor's degree in Business Administration from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.