PPTA guidelines released

Published 10:58 pm Friday, October 17, 2014

The Commonwealth Transportation Board would assume more responsibility for the success or failure of public-private transportation projects under policy changes, proposed to the board Wednesday, that also ramp up public disclosure requirements.

The proposed policy changes are the result of the outcry both inside and outside of state government over Virginia’s investment of nearly $300 million into a road, the proposed new Route 460, that federal officials warned would likely never have passed environmental muster.

The highway was to have been built under a public-private partnership pressed through with little oversight by the administration of former Gov. Bob Mcdonnell.

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Revisions to the manual for implementing the Public-Private Transportation Act would increase transparency and competition, draw clear lines of accountability and minimize risk to taxpayers, according to VDOT.

The transportation board is expected to vote on the draft manual during its meeting next month.

Some primary changes, according to VDOT spokeswoman Tamara Rollison, include:

“Reconstituting” membership of the PPTA Steering Committee for more independent review of “P3” candidate projects.

Briefings and reviews “at critical project milestones” for the CTB, which would “assume a more active role” throughout a project lifespan.

Strengthening the ability to identify project risks early on, and ongoing “assessment of risk allocation and management through P3 project development and procurement” with CTB briefings.

Another new measure would promote competition between project bidders, or ensure adequate value for taxpayers in cases of a single proposal.

Also, “Findings of Public Interest” will be made at critical stages, establishing a project’s scope and risk, and endorsing those findings prior to contract execution.

Transportation Secretary Aubrey Layne froze the contract spending on the Route 460 project earlier this year, after $300 million had been spent without the necessary environmental permits.

A new VDOT assessment after work was shut down has led state officials to conclude there is little likelihood the Route 460 project between Suffolk and Petersburg will ever proceed as it had been conceived under the McDonnell administration.

The cheapest and least environmentally-invasive option for improving the road, the assessment concluded, would be to do just that — improve the existing road — not build a new one.

The Virginia Office of Public-Private Partnerships is accepting public comments on the draft manual through Nov. 1.

A link to the document is at www.vappta.org, where details for lodging comments can also be found.