Private investors take note. An infrastructure bill is smoothly becoming law in Congress, and it could make it easier for you to wade in to the port and waterway market in the United States.
The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last week passed a water resources bill that both Republicans and Democrats support, with applause and encouragement from the Senate, to boot.
For the investment community, the most important part of the House bill is an alliteration-heavy section titled "Water Infrastructure Public-Private Partnership Pilot Program," which would direct the administration to consider private investors when assessing how major port or canal projects are funded.
If the pilot program becomes law, it would signal that this country is entering into a global infrastructure economy. That's good news for international investors, who are watching the U.S. market carefully. Sid Florey of the Paris-headquartered infrastructure firm Vinci Concessions, recently told Municipal Finance Today that there are lots of investment opportunities in this country, but global firms should know that Americans are wary of offshore intrusions that won't benefit the locals. "We're looking at a sustainable type of model, 30 to 35 years of asset management that goes along with the project…with sustainable employment opportunities" he said of his own company.
In general, it appears as though the public is warming to public-private partnerships. Illinois lawmakers—Democrats Sen. Dick Durbin and Rep. Cheri Bustos and Republicans Sen. Mark Kirk and Rep. Rodney Davis—cheered Transportation Committee Chairman Bill Shuster, R-Pa., when he included the public-private partnership pilot program in the bill. They had drafted a similar bill, hoping it would lead to private caretakers for the aging locks and dams in the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. Inclusion in the water resources bill the program's best hope of becoming law.
The Senate passed its own version of the waterways bill this spring, which offers more limited opportunities for private-sector investment. The House bill is expected to be on the House floor in October. If all goes according to planned, negotiators should have plenty of time to work out the differences in a conference committee.
What are the private-sector opportunities for waterways in the United States? How do they differ from public-private partnerships involving roads or bridges? In general, is it a good idea to direct the transportation secretary to always evaluate the potential for private-sector investment in infrastructure projects? What is at risk in ceding more space to the private sector in U.S. infrastructure? What is to be gained? Is this the United States' next step into a larger world? How much farther do we have to go? Or should we stop here?