Edward Belk Jr. calls it “a giant math problem.”
Belk, P.E., is the chief of operations and regulatory division for the civil works directorate of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, facing billions of dollars worth of infrastructure projects in the queue and not nearly that much money in the till. “We’re not sitting around wringing our hands saying, ‘Woe is me,’” Belk told the ASCE Industry Leaders Council at its March meeting. “We’re doing something about it.”
Part of that “something” is the use of private-public partnerships, or P3s. P3s unite public sector contracting authorities with a private sector consortium to deliver public infrastructure works.
“Infrastructure investment is not only a financial challenge, it’s a generational challenge,” Belk told the ILC. “Make no mistake, we do have a gap. It’s going to take some creative and different thinking to get us out of this.”
Belk admitted that P3s are not without challenges. “It can’t solve everything,” he said, “but it can solve some things.” Nor should P3s replace traditional public investments.
When done correctly, though, said Belk, P3s can be a valuable tool for civil engineers:
Three Characteristics of Successful P3s*
1. Life-Cycle Perspective
Private partner provides full upfront financing with bundled project delivery across phases (any combination of design, construction, operations, maintenance, and/or rehab)
2. Incentivized Risk Sharing
Private partner assumes substantial risks for compensation based on key performance outcomes
3. Public Ownership
Public partner retains project ownership and ultimate control
Four Benefits of Successful P3s*
1. faster delivery of infrastructure
2. life-cycle cost savings
3. incentive-driven performance results
4. single source of accountability
* Source: Corps Infrastructure Strategy Overview and P3 Update, Edward E. Belk Jr., U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
The ASCE COPRI (Coasts, Oceans, Ports, and Rivers Institute) P3 for Waterways Infrastructure Subcommittee has been working with the United States Army Corps of Engineers’ Alternative Finance Team for more than a year on workshops, papers, and presentations to meet the group’s three goals – educate, advocate, and facilitate. For more information, please contact Dennis Lambert, P3 for Waterways Infrastructure Subcommittee chair.