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The Staples Subway to the Sea?

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Could you soon be driving in a carpool lane or riding a subway built and operated by a private company? Maybe. At their most recent board meeting, Metro agreed to hire a group called InfraConsult LLC to help identify highway and transit projects that could benefit from public-private partnerships. The partnerships can be done in a variety of ways: One example is that corporations help finance and operate infrastructure projects and then lease the projects back to the city/county/state to make back their investment. Additionally, governments typically offer tax breaks to make this venture more tasty to private companies. In their announcement, Metro cites successful PPPs, including one that leased out a toll road in Indiana and another that helped build an under-construction rail line to D.C.'s Dulles Airport. And there are naming possibilities, too, according to Kathleen Sanchez, project manager of public-private partnerships at Metro. Speaking generally about the whole PPPs process, she said: "We are going to look at all our projects and screen them and see what types of projects are suitable." She also outlined how money could be transferred to other projects via the deal. "If we had planned to spend money on constructing a project like a toll lane, instead of putting that money into the toll lane, the private entity would pay for it, and we would figure out how to pay them back... It's like a mortgage. In the meantime, we could use the money [meant for the toll lane] to build something else." OK, the mortgage reference makes us a little jumpy. But we'll wait to hear more. In related news, City News Service (via NBC) reported that the City Council just OK'd a $500K study to privatize city parking meters and six city parking garages. [Metro]