Commentary

Business, Government Must Join Forces to Address Huge Infrastructure Needs

By Chad Carlton
P3 Kentucky Publisher

The need for major investments in public infrastructure is unquestioned.

The 2017 Infrastructure Grade Card says that our nation’s built environment – its public streets and highways, schools and parks, water and sewer facilities – deserves a dismal D+. At this point, we’re an estimated $4.59 trillion behind.

In Kentucky, our schools need an estimated $453 million of capital improvements. More than 4,000 bridges and overpasses – rated as deficient or functionally obsolete – need repair or replacement. And water and sewer systems in communities across the Commonwealth need a staggering $12.44 billion in improvements.

The needs are so crucial that Kentucky’s ability to attract and keep businesses is threatened by inaction, according to a report issued this month by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. However, Kentucky’s state and local leaders need a comprehensive plan to resolve Kentucky’s infrastructure problems and remain competitive for jobs. A strong solution is through the aggressive pursuit of public-private partnerships, the report says.

Thanks to Gov. Matt Bevin and the Kentucky General Assembly, Kentucky has one of the nation’s most comprehensive set of laws and regulations for public-private partnerships, or P3 for short.

P3 opens the door for shared benefit and risk on construction projects that can help move Kentucky forward. P3 isn’t a funding source, it’s a financing tool that still relies on revenue to pay for the investment. But P3 provides both upfront capital and private-sector expertise that can provide, in many cases, the right combination to move needed projects from discussion to construction.

This isn’t a new concept, but Kentucky’s expanded law means this transformative financing tool can be used in more situations with public agencies, both large and small.

Jay Ingle, a member in Jackson Kelly PLLC’s Lexington law office, recently told attendees at a Kentucky Association for Economic Development conference that the new P3 law is essentially a way to facilitate P3 deals while also providing structure and transparency.

“If your county or city doesn’t have the funds it needs or doesn’t have the capacity or desire to bond, it’s a way to pass that financing risk to the private sector.”

Leaders are already looking for ways to use this new tool.

  • In Frankfort, the state has asked for proposals for a private company that would demolish the aging Capital Plaza building and convention center, rebuild a state-of-the-art facility and lease it back to the state.
  • Madison County has issued a request-for-proposals to find a private partner to create a comprehensive Healing Center to provide addiction detox, treatment, recovery, and vocational services.
  • The Kentucky State Fair Board is talking about ways that P3 might help finance a new convention hotel.
  • At My Old Kentucky Home State Park and at the Kentucky Horse Park, P3 could help improve golf courses and recreational opportunities.
  • And many community leaders across the Commonwealth are seeking ways to bring better broadband services to their citizens, potentially though P3 arrangements.

I’ve been at the table for this conversation for more than a decade. From 4th Street Live to the KFC Yum! Center to the massive Ohio River Bridges Project, I’ve listened, learned and promoted public-private investments that continue to transform Louisville and Southern Indiana.

For the past year, the conversation among advocates of the new P3 law has focused on how to educate thousands of local and state leaders – mayors and magistrates, county judges and commissioners, council members and department directors – about whether P3 is a good option to consider.

That’s why we have created P3 Kentucky (P3KY.com), a communications hub that launched this week to share information and ideas about investments in public infrastructure. We have the support of groups that worked hard to create Kentucky’s P3 law, including the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the Kentucky League of Cities, Kentucky Association of Counties and Kentuckians for Better Transportation. They are part of our growing P3 Kentucky Roundtable, a group of experts who can help answer questions and provide solutions to public infrastructure needs.

Investment in infrastructure is coming to America – and Kentucky. It’s time to tune in and join the conversation. Help build Kentucky’s future.

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