Mason's School of Public Policy Inaugurates Program in Public-Private Partnership Policy

George Mason University's School of Public Policy has launched a new program dedicated to research and education related to public-private partnerships. The Transportation Public-Private Partnership Policy Program will be led by Jonathan L. Gifford, director of the Transportation Policy, Operations and Logistics Program in the School of Public Policy.

"Virginia Secretary of Transportation Sean Connaughton and I believe that increased research and education on the development of public-private partnerships will enhance the use of this procurement tool and emphasize its long-term benefits," said Tony Kinn, Director of the state's Office of Transportation Public-Private Partnerships.

The program was initiated with funding from Virginia's Office of Transportation Public-Private Partnerships. Support from industry and other partners is also anticipated.

"The new program focuses on the important policy issues that are raised by public-private partnerships," Gifford says. "With many agreements being for 50, 75 or even 99 years, we need to examine what policies are required to advance both public and private interests."

Gifford says the new program will also address issues such as apportioning risk and returns among public and private partners, education and outreach for professionals, government officials and the public, and transparency in procurements.

Public-private partnerships have emerged as a critical source of financing for transportation projects in the United States. They offer an alternative method for funding transportation improvements and operations at a time when leveraging scarce public dollars is critical to enhancing transportation infrastructure and business growth opportunities.

Public-private partnerships can be attractive to long-term investors and provide a safe option for pension fund and insurance company assets. The initial capital investments of such funds to improve roads, bridges, tunnels, airports or transit systems are then repaid to the investors using payments by transport users in the form of tolls, parking fees, transit fares and airport landing fees.

In Virginia, public-private partnerships are being used to fund the Express Lanes on Interstate 95 and the Capital Beltway and enhance freight movements to the Port of Virginia in the State Route 460 corridor.

Mason's Transportation Public-Private Partnership Policy Program will contribute to the objective assessment of public-private partnerships by: 

* documenting case studies of projects and programs in the United States and internationally across multiple transportation modes, including highways, ports, airports, rail and transit;

* developing "best practice" guides to assess the appropriateness of the partnerships for a state or local government;

* creating tools to assess the financial viability of the partnerships and their impact on the public;

* conducting comparative studies of United States and international experience with public-private partnerships in the transportation and other sectors;

* providing graduate and executive education on transportation partnerships; and,

* sponsoring workshops and conferences to convene experts, decision makers and practitioners to formulate research and policy agendas.

Mason's School of Public Policy has focused its research and education efforts on transportation policy and finance for more than 20 years. The school's degree programs cover finance, planning, policy, intelligent transportation systems, geographic information systems and transportation policy. The school's faculty is composed of scholars with backgrounds in economics, civil engineering, urban and regional planning, political science and public administration.